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

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

March Madness Picks

It’s that time of year again – March Madness is beginning. For three weeks, we get the opportunity to forget about our “real world” problems and just focus on a different kind of pain: getting our brackets busted. Even though I’ll be lucky if this article makes it even a day into the tournament without being blown up into 10,000 shards of sadness, I’ll share my predictions anyway. Get ready for upset city, everyone. This is going to be a fun 63 games.

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Second Round:

(1)Villanova vs. (16)Mt St. Mary’s/New Orleans

Sorry guys, but it’s a 1 seed against a 16 seed. Nova cruises against whoever wins the play-in.

 

(8)Wisconsin vs. (9)Virginia Tech

The selection committee owes a written apology to this Wisconsin team, as nobody was as grossly underseeded as they were. Virginia Tech has had a good year, but the Badgers simply overmatch them on both ends of the court. Wisconsin has a 91.3 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency (AdjD) rating – good for eighth in the country – which should be able to slow down the Hokies’ potent offense (79.3 ppg), along with a plethora of offensive weapons such as Bronson Koenig, Ethan Happ, and Nigel Hayes. These guys are really, really good. Badgers take the win.

 

(5)Virginia vs. (12)UNC Wilmington

UNC Wilmington is a very strong offensive team, as evidenced by their 117.8 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency (AdjO) – yet unfortunately for them, they’ve been matched off against the top defensive team the country per AdjD in Virginia, who have only allowed a miniscule 55.6 ppg. Despite the 5-vs.-12 curse that seems to haunt five seeds every year, I’m a strong believer that strong defense in the tournament is a consistent winner. This could go either way, but my guess is that Virginia gets it in a close one.

 

(4)Florida vs. (13)East Tennessee St.

Call it a hunch. There’s no hard data to back me up here, as Florida outranks East Tennessee St. in nearly every statistical category. But a deeper look shows that even though Florida is a four seed, they lack any true quality wins except for the one against Kentucky at home (they later lost to them on the road), with their next best being home wins against Seton Hall and South Carolina. I think neutral court, with the fans able to get behind an underdog, East Tennessee St. pulls it out against an overrated Gators squad.

 

(6)SMU vs. (11)Providence/USC

SMU all day. I’m buying in. These guys haven’t lost since a two-point game on the road in Cincinnati (16 games ago), and before that, you have to go all the way back to November 30th for their last defeat. They are hot, to put it lightly. I know that the AAC isn’t the most competitive conference, but these guys are riding a wave of confidence at the right time.

 

(3)Baylor vs. (14)New Mexico St.

Sorry Baylor, but I’m taking the Aggies here. I know how good Johnathan Motley and the Bears are, but I just don’t trust them. They’re 5-6 in their last 11, and I have trouble believing in a team peaking at the wrong time. Meanwhile, this is NM State’s fifth appearance in the big dance in the last six years. Still seeking their first win in that time frame, the Aggies are hungry. Plus, there’s no way that ETSU over Florida is the only upset in this quarter. Sometimes you gotta guess and hope for the best. They don’t call it Madness for nothing.

 

(7)South Carolina vs. (10)Marquette

South Carolina has a really good defense (3rd in the country in AdjD) while Marquette has a really good offense (7th in AdjO). I feel like I might regret this because the Gamecocks have been cold, but I think they win. Again, my good-defense-trumps-good-offense-in-the-tourney bias is coming into play, but even more than that, as a diehard Michigan fan (I promise to only keep a little bit of bias), I witnessed South Carolina suck the life out of the Wolverines – a team fresh off beating Marquette and SMU. South Carolina is the better team here.

 

(2)Duke vs. (15)Troy

My only worry here is that Duke looks past the Trojans and struggles in their opening game, making it closer than it has to be. But, I mean, the Blue Devils are really, really good (shocker). I don’t foresee a massive upset.

 

(1)Gonzaga vs. (16)South Dakota St.

1 vs. 16. Next please.

 

(8)Northwestern vs. (9)Vanderbilt

I would have Northwestern winning this round regardless of the opponent. The entire school is absolutely psyched after making their first NCAA tournament appearance ever, and often the outcome of these March Madness games is decided by things beyond what numbers can see. I like the Wildcats to maintain their endless positive energy.

 

(5)Notre Dame vs. (12)Princeton

On one hand, I want to pick Notre Dame so badly. They have so many weapons. They can hurt you from anywhere. They have experience. But on the other hand, this is a 5 vs. 12 game and Princeton is as hot as hot gets after not losing a single game in league play. Yes, they were playing against inferior competition to what Notre Dame is, but wins are wins and confidence is confidence. Princeton is another balanced, strong sleeper pick that could bust some brackets come Thursday.

 

(4)West Virginia vs. (13)Bucknell

Sorry to Bucknell, but I have trouble seeing it. WVU lost last year in a heartbreaking upset at the hands of SF Austin, and I think that they’re motivated to do better this year. Plus, they’re a numbers darling per Adjusted Efficiency Margin (AdjEM). No crazy pick from me here.

 

(6)Maryland vs. (11)Xavier

I really, really don’t like this Maryland team for reasons I can’t explain. I think they were overseeded and I think that Melo Trimble is overrated after an outstanding freshman season. But I hate Xavier even more. No Edmund Sumner on a cold team. Yikes. Have to give Maryland the W.

 

(3)Florida St. vs. (14)Florida Gulf Coast

Hey, why not. I like Jonathan Isaac and Dwayne Bacon, but their late season losses are hard to ignore (4-4 in their last 8). Confidence is key in these games, and FGCU is on a hot streak with nothing to lose. No, it’s not the same team as in 2013, but these guys are legit, with four players averaging over 10 ppg. Can they recapture their magic? I think so.

 

(7)Saint Mary’s vs. (10)VCU

Three of Saint Mary’s four losses on the season are to Gonzaga. Take the star-studded Bulldogs out of the equation, and this is a team with one loss and a true star in Jock Landale. They take the win here against a VCU team still trying to live up to its past.

 

(2)Arizona vs. (15)North Dakota

I don’t think Arizona is as terrific as they are seeded (their AdjEM is only good for 20th in the country), but I also don’t think that North Dakota is a match for them. Arizona rolls in their first round game.

 

(1)Kansas vs. (16)NC Central/UC Davis

Kansas is not losing this game.

 

(8)Miami (FL) vs. (9)Michigan St.

I could easily be wrong here, as many advanced metrics, a higher seeding, and a better record would all point to the Hurricanes winning here. But you can’t put the impact of Tom Izzo into numbers. I can’t see them losing in the first round.

 

(5)Iowa St. vs. (12)Nevada

Iowa State has earned this win after years of tournament futility. Nevada has been a trendy upset pick for some, but the Cyclones will be able to get at least one victory off of the back of the always-trustworthy Monte Morris. Such a stabilizing force (he never turns the ball over as the primary ball-handler) is extremely valuable when trying to fend off an upset-hungry team.

 

(4)Purdue vs. (13)Vermont

I feel guilty picking an entire eighth of the bracket without any first round upsets, but I don’t think that Vermont has what it takes to get past twin beasts Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas. Similarly to the Monte Morris situation, put the ball in the hands of either one and watch them go to work – they can act as stabilizing forces against a Cinderella.

 

(6)Creighton vs. (11)Rhode Island

Alright let’s get to the upsets. E.C. Matthews is a stud who can lead this team past almost anybody, as the Rams currently boast wins over Cincinnati, VCU, and a close loss to Duke. They’ve won their last 8 games and can take on any challenge. Creighton, on the other hand… eh. They only boast two quality wins on the season (both against Butler), and after starting the season very strong, they are only 5-6 in their last 11. Hot vs. not; I’ll always take hot. Rhode Island gets the upset.

 

(3)Oregon vs. (14)Iona

The analytics don’t love Iona (118th in AdjEM), and I can’t say I have much of a reason to disagree. That being said, it’s really hard for me to pick Oregon to win this game. They haven’t beaten a top team away from home this year, and they just lost Chris Boucher to a torn ACL. That’s not a recipe for success. But, I don’t think they lose… yet. They deke out a win here, but barely.

 

(7)Michigan vs. (10)Oklahoma St.

This seems like a trap game for Michigan, a very trendy pick to make a run at this tournament (a trend I will be likely to follow. Beware of bias), as Oklahoma State ranks first in the country in AdjO. They’re a sneaky good team who have been prone to cold streaks (six game losing streak in the middle of the year, three games to end their season) but has some good wins, such as beating WVU on the road. Regardless, I think Michigan is simply too hot right now. Fresh off of a Big Ten championship in which Derrick Walton Jr. looked like one of the best players in the country, Michigan takes the win and continues their momentum.

 

(2)Louisville vs. (15)Jacksonville St.

Fun Fact: Jacksonville State is located in Jacksonville, Alabama, not Jacksonville, Florida. Another Fun Fact: Louisville is almost certainly going to beat them on Friday/

 

(1)North Carolina vs. (16)Texas Southern

It’s another 1 vs. 16. Are you sensing a pattern yet?

 

(8)Arkansas vs. (9)Seton Hall

The analytics slightly lean toward Arkansas, as they rank better in AdjEM and far better in AdjO. But, on the other hand, Seton Hall ranks better in that all-important defense (38th in the country as opposed to 96th) and are on a hot streak, capping off five straight wins with only a two-point loss to number one overall Villanova. My guy tells me to go with the Pirates.

 

(5)Minnesota vs. (12)Middle Tennessee

Another trendy 5-12 upset pick has one of last year’s Cinderellas, the Blue Raiders, defeating the much-improved Golden Gophers. As much as I enjoy rooting for a turnaround from Rich Pitino’s squad, an upset here seems like a decent possibility. Middle Tennessee doesn’t rank far behind Minnesota in terms of AdjEM, suggesting that the supposed gap between the teams really isn’t that big. Beyond that, it’s a confidence game. Middle Tennessee has lost once in their last 21 games and are riding high right now, while Minnesota is coming off of a rough loss to Michigan on a neutral court. Middle Tennessee has got the looks of a Cinderella to me – they have my pick here.

 

(4)Butler vs. (13)Winthrop

Butler might be the most bipolar team in the country this year, with quality wins over Arizona, Cincinnati, and Villanova (twice), yet also losses to Indiana State, Saint John’s, and Georgetown. Could this be one of those games? I don’t think so. The Bulldogs will be too prepared to lose this one, and they have a nice history of success in March. However, next round could offer an intriguing matchup….

 

(6)Cincinnati vs. (11)Kansas St./Wake Forest

This one is a little complicated because of the play-in game, but in the end, I don’t think will really matter. Wake Forest is too inconsistent in my book to defeat Kansas State, so my best guess of what will happen is that Kansas St. will advance and then defeat Cincinnati, as the Wildcats have proven that they can beat top opponents and don’t rank far behind the Bearcats in the analytics department. On the other hand, if Wake Forest beats Kansas State, I think they fall to Cincy in the next round. But, no matter what, my real prediction is that it all ends up being for naught because (spoiler alert) UCLA beats whoever survives in the round of 32.

 

(3)UCLA vs. (14)Kent St.

Every time I see a three seed that “know” can’t lose, I whisper to myself, “Mercer, Duke. Mercer, Duke. Mercer, Duke”. But, I mean, Lonzo Ball and UCLA can’t lose this game. Right? Right?

 

(7)Dayton vs. (10)Wichita St.

Boy, do the analytics love Wichita State (8th in the country in AdjEM), and boy do I agree. These guys are one of the most balanced teams in the country, with not even a single player averaging 12 PPG along with a stifling defense. They can hurt you in so many different ways and with so many different players that Archie Miller will have a lot of trouble game-planning this one. I think Wichita, on a 15 game winning streak, overwhelms the Flyers and becomes a very rough matchup for Kentucky.

 

(2)Kentucky vs. (15)Northern Kentucky

Sorry guys, but no 15 seeds over 2 seeds or 16 seeds over 1 seeds this year. I’ve called all those games with so much confidence that you just know they’re all going to be wrong.

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Photo Credits: Getty Images

Round of 32:

(1)Villanova vs. (8)Wisconsin

Yikes, tough matchup for the defending champs. All the pressure is on the Wildcats, but I think they pull through here. Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Jalen Brunson and company are really, really good, and while I’m sure Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes make this very interesting in one final go-around along with sophomore Ethan Happ, Nova overwhelms the Badgers with their all-around ridiculous-ness.

 

(5)Virginia vs. (13)East Tennessee St.

Sorry East Tennessee, but the Cavaliers put an end to the magic with their top-ranked stifling defense. Have fun with that one Nova.

 

(6)SMU vs. (14)New Mexico St.

Like the last game, the supreme underdog had their fun, but it’s time for the ultra-versatile-grossly-underseeded Mustangs to make a run. SMU is ranked 11th in AdjEM and they don’t have any glaring weaknesses. They’re dangerous.

 

(7)South Carolina vs. (2)Duke

I really am inclined to call upset here, I really am. South Carolina looked spectacular at the start of the season, but they’ve gone cold, going 3-6 in their last 9. Duke gets the win, and if I have to guess, it probably won’t be close either.

 

(1)Gonzaga vs. (8)Northwestern

I want the magic to continue but the dream dies here. Gonzaga is a great basketball team with a little bit of extra motivation to prove that they’re not chokers. Northwestern obviously also has an extra push of school spirit going for them, but Gonzaga is simply fantastic all-around, ranking tops in AdjEM due to a tenth overall ranking in AdjO and a second overall ranking in AdjD. It’s going to be really tough to stop them.

 

(12)Princeton vs. (4)West Virginia

I feel guilty putting a 1 vs. 4 in the Sweet 16 because that literally never, ever happens but I don’t feel I have a choice. WVU is spectacular by the numbers, with their 5th-ranked AdjEM resulting in part from their 5th-ranked AdjD (and you know how I love my defense). I don’t think Princeton, despite their recent success, has the firepower to overcome such stinginess.

 

(6)Maryland vs. (14)Florida Gulf Coast

I hate Maryland. So I’m picking Florida Gulf Coast. Dunk City has returned. Don’t like it? Maryland is 4-6 in their last 10. FGCU is 9-1. Yes, those are crude statistics. But Maryland is too cold and not talented enough to make a run here. And more importantly, how could you root against Dunk City?

 

(7)Saint Mary’s vs. (2)Arizona

Time for the biggest upset pick so far. Yup, that’s right – Jock and the Gaels over the Wildcats. Arizona has lost games so far this season to Butler, Gonzaga, Oregon, and UCLA. To me, that’s evidence that they are a very strong team, but when faced with a challenge they can fold. Saint Mary’s, on the other hand, has lost games to UT Arlington and Gonzaga (three times). To me, that looks like a dominant team with a slip-up and an Achilles’ heel. I could be very far from right here, but hey, in March you have to make some tough calls (based on educated guesses) that seem to make little sense. This, to me, is as good a bet for an early upset of a top seed as we can get this year.

 

(1)Kansas vs. (9)Michigan St.

Although I believe in Izzo as a great coach who can will his team to places few others can, at some point, the reality that must be accepted is that this Spartans team simply is not that good. Sure, Miles Bridges is a star, but they have little else as a consistent supporting cast. Kansas takes this one, although I’m sure Izzo gives Bill Self a scare.

 

(5)Iowa St. vs. (4)Purdue

While Purdue’s twin towers have wreaked havoc all season, one of the weaknesses of the team has been defending strong guard play (see: losses to Nova, Louisville, Minnesota, Iowa, and Michigan twice – that’s almost every loss for Purdue on the season coming against a top guard), and Monte Morris and Naz Long are as good as guards come. Purdue bows out early this year.

 

(11)Rhode Island vs. (3)Oregon

And another one bites the dust. While Oregon will still be good without Boucher, his loss is going to hurt big time. Meanwhile, URI has got a star that can light it up. Rhode Island establishes itself as a Cinderella by beating a (possibly overrated?) three seed and reaching the Sweet 16.

 

(7)Michigan vs. (2)Louisville

While, yes, I have a lot of Michigan bias, I honestly feel that even if I was not a Michigan fan I would still pick them to win this game. Derrick Walton has been stellar not only on offense as of late but also in terms of shutting down opposing guards, and Donovan Mitchell fits the bill. If Walton continues his hot streak, Michigan simply has too many weapons playing at too high a level for Louisville, and they take the win in a rematch of the 2013 National Championship game.

 

(1)UNC vs. (9)Seton Hall

Yikes… this is bad… all of my 1 seeds are going to be in for the Sweet 16… this will never happen…. As reluctant as I am to move my fourth 1 seed forward, I don’t think Seton Hall can win this game. UNC is spectacular by the numbers (3rd in AdjEM) and can hurt teams with nearly any of their players. I don’t like it but the Pirates don’t have the firepower in my eyes to take these guys down.

 

(12)Middle Tennessee vs. (4)Butler

I actually believe that if Butler were to win this game, they could take down UNC. But hey, remember that whole bipolar basketball issue? It works both ways. While Butler may be able to take down the Tar Heels, I think that the Blue Raiders, hot as they are, pull off the upset to become the only 12 seed to make the Sweet 16 this year. Butler has been shown to be very beatable by non-elite teams, and I think that Middle Tennessee is going to be better than the typical mid-major winner.

 

(3)UCLA vs. (6)Cincinnati/(11)Kansas St.

Remember that whole confusion with the Cincy/Kansas St./Wake Forest mess? Yeah, it won’t matter now. UCLA is too much of an offensive powerhouse (their 3rd overall ranking in AdjO doesn’t even do them justice) to lose to any of them.

 

(10)Wichita St. vs. (2)Kentucky

Welcome to the best game of the round of 32: a rematch between the tightly contested, instant classic 2014 round of 32 matchup with so many storylines that it was hard to count. Sound familiar? Well, this year, Wichita State sans Baker/Van Vleet, has reinvented itself as the underdog in this edition, yet one who plays a tough, balanced brand of basketball that has been tough for any team to beat in the last several months. Meanwhile, this year Kentucky is playing up to expectations with its most recent crop of superstar freshman. In this exciting role reversal from not-too-long-ago, I’m going with the underdog once again: Wichita State. The Shockers haven’t forgotten how their perfect season was destroyed in memorable fashion, and they want revenge. Gregg Marshall’s teams can never be counted out, and his defensive attack will give the shockers a Sweet 16 berth.

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Photo Credits: Bleacher Report

Sweet 16

(1)Villanova vs. (5)Virginia

Get ready for a shock to your system. I’m calling it here. I don’t believe in repeat champions – not in a tournament like this – and if there’s anyone that has a chance to stop the onslaught that the Nova stars put on, it’s Tony Bennett’s Cavs and their incredible defense. If you have Nova winning this game along with the next three, I wouldn’t argue – but I just don’t have that feeling that they’re special enough to finish on top again.

 

(6)SMU vs. (2)Duke

This is going to be a close one, but I got to go with the reliable Coach K to bring his guys to another Elite 8. SMU is actually slightly better by advanced analytics, ranking one spot ahead of Duke in AdjEM. But I just don’t feel the magic. This Duke team has so many ways to hurt you: Luke Kennard, Jayson Tatum, Grayson Allen – the list goes on and on. Their talent will win out over the Mustangs.

 

(1)Gonzaga vs. (4)West Virginia

I’ve been talking up WVU for a while now, but Gonzaga gets the win here. The Bulldogs are just a solid, complete basketball team with no weaknesses. I can’t see a way for WVU to pull off an upset here.

 

(14)Florida Gulf Coast vs. (7)Saint Mary’s

As all good things do, the best Cinderellas must die off. I hope Dunk City gets another crack at the Elite 8, but similarly to the WVU/Gonzaga game, I don’t see a way for them to beat a prepared Saint Mary’s team who has lost to only two teams this year – one of them a one seed and the other a blip on the radar. FGCU definitely stands a chance, but Landale and the Gaels (they should trademark that) come through in a close one.

 

(1)Kansas vs. (5)Iowa St.

I feel like I’m going to regret this because of Iowa State’s past suffering in the tournament, but… Cyclone on. When Kansas and Iowa State faced off this year, both games were decided by under four points and the season series was split. These teams are about as even when they face off as even gets, and something tells me the Monte Morris will be just as great as ever once the lights get brighter. The crowd should get behind the underdog, and that could be the difference maker here. Iowa State gets it in what could be one of the best games in the tournament.

 

(11)Rhode Island vs. (7)Michigan

Derrick Walton keeps doing Derrick Walton things and Michigan takes this one on the back of their defense of E.C. Matthews and their multitude of ways to attack on offense. Michigan will be building even more momentum at this point, and if their shots are falling, they will be nearly impossible to stop.

 

(1)UNC vs. (12)Middle Tennessee

It was fun while it lasted. Sorry to the Blue Raiders, but UNC is balanced and looking to make a statement with this game while trying to build confidence with a tough matchup coming up (regardless of who makes the Elite 8 of that bottom eighth of the draw, the last team standing there will be a very good one – that section is stacked). These guys are pros who have been here before. They won’t fall into a trap game.

 

(3)UCLA vs. (10)Wichita St.

It pains me to pick offense over defense here, but UCLA takes this one. Wichita State had a great run against two very tough teams, but playing such good games take their toll, and UCLA will be better rested and ready to play their up-tempo, shoot-at-will style of offense that few this year have been able to stop. While, once again, this should be one of the best games of the tournament, Lonzo, TJ, and Bryce are simply too much for the Shockers to handle. They’ll be back though. Don’t you worry.

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Photo Credits: Getty Images

Elite 8

(5)Virginia vs. (2)Duke

And this is where UVA’s run comes to an end. While I’m being forced to pick against defense for the second game, Duke has proven that they can beat the Cavs before, defeating them by 10 on the road. While yes, that’s not necessarily indicative of how things will go this time around, Duke simply has so many weapons that it will be difficult for a defensive-minded team to contain all of them. The Blue Devils and Coach K make another Final Four.

 

(1)Gonzaga vs. (7)Saint Mary’s

It’s the Achilles’ heel! Saint Mary’s couldn’t beat these guys three times during the regular season, and they won’t be able to do it here either. Gonzaga advances.

 

(5)Iowa St. vs. (7)Michigan

Hail to the victors! One thing that Derrick Walton has been able to do over the last month is to consistently outplay his matchup, and in this game, the same thing happens. Monte vs. Derrick will be outstanding, pure basketball to watch, but it’s hard to bet against Walton after the several weeks he’s had. Walton also has an impressive supporting cast surrounding him, with every type of weapon imaginable at his disposal. Once again, Michigan hits their shots and moves on.

 

(1)UNC vs. (3)UCLA

This will be a fun one, but Lonzo and the Bruins head to the Final Four. They just have it – it’s not describable, but it’s fun to watch. UCLA is high-flying, fast-shooting, deep, and a joy to witness on every level. UNC will put up quite the fight, but they won’t be able to keep pace with the reckless abandonment that the Bruins play with. Lonzo carries the team to the Final Four while LaVar looks on proudly talking trash (in a friendly way).

 

Final Four

(2)Duke vs. (1)Gonzaga

This is the year. I can feel it. After being criticized for as a mid-major power who can’t beat top programs, Nigel Williams-Goss and Przemek Karnowski get their squad over the hump and carry their team to a National Championship appearance. This game will certainly be a close one, but at this point in the tournament, there’s games within the game. There’s the fatigue game – Gonzaga will have had the easier road to get to the Final Four, so they will have an edge there. There’s the numbers game – but at this point, the slight edge in advanced analytics that Gonzaga holds isn’t important; both of these teams can play, big time. But most importantly, there’s the media and fans game – Gonzaga will have the public support because, despite being a 1 seed, they’re a perennial underdog who have never gotten proper respect; while Duke, well, to put it kindly, the general public typically doesn’t like them. This will be as even as even gets, but Gonzaga pulls through and gets the W.

 

(7)Michigan vs. (3)UCLA

I’ll be sorry to see my Wolverines go, but UCLA will get this one. Both teams play a very similar style, and this game should be a joy to watch – fast-paced, lots of threes, lots of fast-breaks, lots of smart offense. But Michigan simply can’t hang with the Bruins for a full 40 minutes. When the two teams played earlier this season, the first half was one of the best displays of college basketball I’ve ever seen. But, after halftime, Michigan couldn’t maintain the same pace and shooting that the Bruins have kept up all season. It should be impossible for the Bruins to have played as well offensively as they have – college kids shouldn’t be this skilled already. But after months of consistent production, they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt, and as a result, common logic would suggest that they defeat Michigan in a terrific game.

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Photo Credits: LA Times

National Championship

(1)Gonzaga vs. (3)UCLA

After months of grueling workouts, spectacular finishes, and relative parity (resulting in some great games) across college basketball, I’ve selected this year’s national champions to be… the UCLA Bruins. While this should be another closely contested game, all of what I have already stated about UCLA holds true here. They are an offensive juggernaut with just too many weapons to contain – and while Gonzaga will certainly put up a great fight, the Bruins are simply too good to fail.

 

Of course, come Thursday everything I have predicted will be proven wrong with a dazzling array of upsets no logical person would ever have seen coming. Oh well. Hey, at least that’s the fun of it, right?

 

Data courtesy of ESPN and Kenpom

 

NBA All-Star Picks 2017

In responding to the question of who the biggest Eastern Conference All-Star snub was, ESPN analyst Amin Elhassan said, “Nobody. In order for someone to be snubbed, there has to be someone undeserving occupying their spot.”

I couldn’t agree more with his sentiments. In general, the right players were selected for the game this year. However, that’s not to say the rosters are perfect. Take a look at my picks for the game, based on the numbers and the eye test.

Disclaimer: I’m somewhat traditional in my picks. I want to see something at least resembling two guards, two forwards, and a big man as my starters. Meaning, no, I will not start Antetokounmpo, Lebron, and Jimmy Butler in one lineup.

 

Eastern Conference

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Starters

Isaiah Thomas, G, Boston Celtics

Thomas not being voted a starter this year is criminal, and would have gotten more headlines if not for another, uh, “bad starting decision” in the other conference. His PER is a ridiculous 27.39, and he has 29.1 PPG (second only to the “bad decision”) and 6.3 APG to boot. Watching him knife through the lane is thing of beauty, and he’s molded himself into the superstar that the Celtics have craved for years – especially during the 4th quarter, in which he averages 42.3% 3P shooting, 90.1% FT shooting, and a league leading 10.0 points.

 

John Wall, G, Washington Wizards

Wall has quietly put together a great season, averaging a double-double with 23.0 PPG and 10.1 APG to the tune of a 23.57 PER, along with his usual great perimeter defense (2.2 SPG). He hasn’t gotten a lot of press because his team is nothing special (26-20 overall) but his numbers speak for themselves. He deserves to be a starter.

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo, G/F, Milwaukee Bucks

Most NBA fans predicted that he would take a leap this season, but come on now. “The Greek Freak” has taken the league by storm over the first half of this year, averaging a statline that has literally never been matched before: 23.4 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 5.5 APG, 2.0 BPG, and 1.8 SPG. He’s leading the Bucks in each of those categories while playing whatever position they need him to – usually some combination of shooting guard/small forward who also runs the offense like the point guard. He’s in the thick of the MVP conversation and arguably already one of the game’s top 5 players at the age of 22 – two years younger than rookie teammate Malcolm Brogdon.

 

Lebron James, F, Cleveland Cavaliers

Yup, he’s still really good. 25.7 PPG, 8.5 APG, 7.9 RPG, and a 25.82 PER. An MVP candidate and the best player on one of the favorites to win the title. Still possibly the best basketball player in the world. Nothing new.

 

Joel Embiid, C, Philadelphia 76ers

I know, I know. I know he’s only played 31 games. I know he’s on a minutes restriction. I know he’s not even on the actual All-Star roster. Yet, I still have him here as a starter. Why? Well, honestly, there’s not many deserving F/C candidates for a starting spot in the East. And, when he’s actually on the floor, Embiid has been one of the best at his position in the league, averaging 20.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 2.1 APG, and 2.5 BPG (despite his limited minutes) and a 24.53 PER, along with almost singlehandedly breathing life back into the 76ers franchise. Plus, “The Process” is just so fun – off the court and on. How could you not want to see him play in the game?

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Reserves

Kyrie Irving, G, Cleveland Cavaliers

Another year, another elite season from Kyrie. He’s still only 24 years old, yet he’s already a four time All-Star who hit the biggest shot of the NBA Finals, leading his team to victory. This year, he’s averaging career highs in points and field goal percentage, while taking the highest volume of shots in his career. He’s really good. He’s an All-Star.

 

DeMar DeRozan, G/F, Toronto Raptors

DeRozan is a high-volume shooter who’s going to get his numbers. He’s not always the most efficient, but his mid-range jumper is deadly, he’s an elite athlete, and he’s one of the top players on one of the top teams in the East. I don’t believe he deserves the starting nod over Wall and Thomas, but 27.9 PPG and a 25.02 PER speak for themselves; he’s a very worthy All-Star.

 

Jimmy Butler, G/F, Chicago Bulls

Butler took another step forward this year as a member of the new-look Bulls, averaging a career-high 24.4 PPG and 25.40 PER. He’s still an elite perimeter defender, and he just keeps improving. He’s not a starter over the Greek Freak and Lebron, but he’s a borderline star and the clear leader of a should-be playoff team.

 

Kevin Love, F, Cleveland Cavaliers

We’re seeing a resurgent Kevin Love this year, and it’s a pleasure to watch. He’s back over the 20 PPG and 10 RPG threshold for the first time since joining with Lebron and Kyrie, hitting threes at his highest rate since the 2010-11 season, and helping the Cavs reach their potential when he’s on the floor – they have a +10.4 Offensive Rating when he’s playing, but a -3.9 when he’s not.

 

Hassan Whiteside, C, Miami Heat

Not getting much love this year because the Heat are not a good team by any means, Whiteside’s actually topped most of his numbers from last year, and is currently tied for the league lead in rebounds. His PER has taken a dip and he’s no longer averaging the ridiculous 3.7 BPG he posted last year, but he’s still one of the top centers in the East – leading them with 7.4 Estimated Wins Added on the year so far.

 

Kyle Lowry, G, Toronto Raptors

Lowry isn’t flashy, but his numbers speak for themselves. He’s averaging career-highs 22.7 PPG and 4.8 RPG, along with 6.9 APG, leading to a fantastic 23.67 PER. He’s also the team leader and floor general on one of the best squads in the conference. Nothing suggests anything other than a third All-Star appearance for the point guard.

 

Kemba Walker, G, Charlotte Hornets

I struggle here taking a fifth point guard, but there’s nobody left more deserving than Kemba. Averaging 23.3 PPG, 5.5 APG, and 4.2 RPG, he’s a balanced offensive superstar willing a team with few other weapons to a possible playoff spot.

 

Western Conference

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Starters

Russell Westbrook, G, Oklahoma City Thunder

Ah, the previously mentioned “bad decision”. How Westbrook is not starting this game is an atrocity. He’s averaging a triple double. It would take an injury or a catastrophic collapse for him not to win MVP. He gets this spot.

 

James Harden, G, Houston Rockets

Again, who else could possibly start this game. If not for Westbrook’s superhuman season, Harden would be the surefire MVP, averaging 29.1 PPG, 11.6 APG, and 8.2 RPG – all career highs. His PER is a ridiculous 28.16, and he’s accomplished all he has this season while learning the intricacies of playing point guard. His defense still isn’t great, but his spectacular offense makes up for it a hundred times over.

 

Kawhi Leonard, F, San Antonio Spurs

Kawhi just seems to get better each year. After becoming a borderline MVP candidate last year, he’s upped the ante even further by combining his stifling perimeter defense with a scoring punch of 25.4 PPG, and as a result he’s averaging a 28.16 PER. No Tim Duncan, no problem.

 

Kevin Durant, F, Golden State Warriors

Yawn. So what he’s on a new team. KD is still going to be KD. 26.1 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 4.7 APG, 1.7 BPG, 1.1 SPG, 28.20 PER. All-Star starter. Next please.

 

Anthony Davis, F/C, New Orleans Pelicans

27.8 PPG, 12.0 RPG, 2.3 BPG, and a 27.74 PER. Not much debate on this one either. Western starters seem pretty straightforward.

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Reserves

Stephen Curry, G, Golden State Warriors

Curry is still fantastic, even though he’s not getting nearly the same amount of coverage in the media. He’s had to cede some looks to Durant, obviously, so his numbers have dipped from last year. A “dip” for Steph though is another player’s dream season: 25.0 PPG, 6.1 APG, and 4.3 RPG to go with a 23.89 PER. Oh, and the Warriors are 40-7. Yup, he deserves a spot here.

 

Chris Paul, G, Los Angeles Clippers; replaced by Damian Lillard, G, Portland Trail Blazers

Paul was leading the Clippers to another great regular season, (nearly averaging a double-double) but didn’t get an All-Star nod due to a recent injury. I believe he should have been selected, then replaced by Dame in order to give one more deserving player the nod (picking 13 All-Stars rather than 12). Lillard’s also had a more than deserving season (despite the Blazers not being great), averaging 26.3 PPG, 5.8 APG and 4.8 RPG along with a 23.03 PER.

 

Gordon Hayward, F, Utah Jazz

Hayward’s flown under the radar for a while, as the Jazz are a small market team who have had little success as of late. However, Hayward has been posting borderline All-Star numbers for years and finally broke out this season, averaging 21.6 PPG, 5.7 RPG, and 3.5 APG, along with improving his skills of getting and converting at the line (career highs in free throws attempted and free throw percentage), resulting in a 22.04 PER. He, Kawhi and KD are the only small forwards in the West with a PER above 18.5 – it’s no mistake that they are the three playing in New Orleans.

 

Draymond Green, F/C, Golden State Warriors

Not everyone is his biggest fan, but it’s hard to argue with how good he’s been. He can defend all five positions at a DPOY level, as well as play what is basically a point center role on offense. His numbers aren’t outstanding (10.5 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 7.5 APG), but they’re extraordinarily balanced; he’s the engine that makes the Warriors go, as he does whatever is necessary for his team to win. And, well, when his team is winning (40-7 as of this writing), it’s hard to argue with considering him deserving of this spot.

 

Demarcus Cousins, C, Sacramento Kings

Boogie, long touted as an offensive superstar, is having possibly his best season yet, averaging a career high 28.1 PPG, 4.4 APG and 36.7% three point shooting, as well as 10.5 RPG, 1.4 SPG, and 1.4 BPG. As long as his off-court behaviors don’t hold him back, his talent has rarely been in question; this year will be a well-deserved third selection.

 

Marc Gasol, C, Memphis Grizzlies

Similarly to Gordon Hayward, Gasol has long been a borderline All-Star flying under the radar. And, like Hayward, Gasol took a step forward this year, averaging a career high 4.2 APG and over 20 PPG for the first time in his eight-year career – thanks to the addition of a deadly three-point shot (over a 40% three point shooting percentage on 3.7 attempts per game). Combined with his always-strong defense and the success of the Grizzlies (28-21), Gasol has earned his spot here for the third time.

 

Nikola Jokic, C/F, Denver Nuggets

This might not be the most popular choice, but it’s the best one by the numbers and the eye test. Jokic started off the season poorly, splitting time with Jusuf Nurkic and playing at power forward rather than his natural center spot. Yet, for months now, Jokic has been showing off his incredible blend of passing, shooting, hustle, and general basketball IQ far beyond his years. He has a 26.46 PER, and is averaging 15.5 PPG, 8.5 RPG, and 4.0 APG in only 26.1 MPG; yet per 36 minutes, those increase to 21.4, 11.7, and 5.5 respectively. Those are All-Star numbers. Plus, like Embiid, Jokic is so fun to watch (look up Nikola Jokic passing highlights. You won’t be sorry). Could you imagine him tossing up a lob to Russell Westbrook?
Did I leave anyone out? Anyone here that you don’t think is deserving? Feel free to contact us or comment with any questions or thoughts.

Photo Credits: AP Photo, Getty Images, Bleacher Report

Draft Pick Analysis (2010-2014) #1 to #10

Analysis for picks #1 to #10:

 

  1. Gordon Hayward, (52.07)

Hayward has consistently improved his statistical outputs year after year since entering the league in 2010 out of Butler with the 9th pick. He now finds himself as the offensive centerpiece of a constantly-on-the-cusp Jazz team – where it’s clear that if they finally just put it all together, they can be special. While draft analysts once wondered about Hayward’s lack of top-notch athleticism or ability to develop a consistent jump shot, he has proven that he can shoulder the load for his team during a long and grueling season and shoot from the outside as well, as last year he knocked down threes at a nearly 35% clip while taking a high volume of about 5 per game. Overall, he’s proven that he is an all-around offensive threat, and there is still much more to come in writing his legacy with the Jazz.

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Damian Lillard has emerged as a one of the league’s superstar despite being drafted only 4 years ago. Photo Credit: NBA.com
  1. Damian Lillard, (54.45)

Lillard has become a legitimate offensive superstar since being taken with the 6th pick in 2012. Despite his usage rate continuing to climb, his PER has improved right along with it as he has taken his Portland team from irrelevance to a consistent playoff power. He’s a deadly 3-point shooter who also happens to be such a great athlete that he was able to participate in a dunk contest despite being a 6’3” point guard. His scoring outputs have increased year after year, and he also set a new career mark in APG last season with 6.8. Even better yet, he’s proven that he can come up big in clutch situations, especially in playoff time (just ask James Harden). The perennial All-Star should continue to improve as he nears his prime and the Blazers become better and better.

 

  1. Jae Crowder, (56.12)

In the years following being picked with the 34th pick in 2012, Crowder has developed a reputation as being an incredibly scrappy, underrated forward. He can do a little bit of everything, including the ability to shoot, rebound, pass, and defend. His numbers have improved as well, as his PER and points/40 minutes have increased each year he’s been in the league. His hard-nosed playing style has him poised to be a key contributing member to a Celtics team that should contend for a top 3 seed.

 

  1. Paul George, (57.92)

George has become an all-around superstar since being taken 10th in 2010, and is arguably one of the top players of the draft class (John Wall and Demarcus Cousins the others) despite being taken later than both other stars. George has carved out a role as a dominant player by becoming possibly the second best two-way star in the NBA (behind Kawhi Leonard), as he has the ability to defend the 2, 3, and 4 with lockdown precision and additionally can put up 20+ points per game. As added bonuses, George has even developed a consistent 3-point shot and shown the ability to rebound and pass at high levels.

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Kemba Walker has translated his success from being one of the most dominant college basketball players in recent history into becoming a great score in the NBA. Photo Credits: Bleacher Report
  1. Kemba Walker, (60.15)

After showing nice progress over several years, Walker finally broke out in a big way last season, becoming the true offensive centerpiece of the Hornets. The former 9th overall pick in 2011 posted the highest PER and points per game totals of his career, while at the same time improving his True Shooting percentage despite taking on an elevated Usage Rate. Already a great shot creator and driver, Walker showed improved shooting last season and has a lot to build upon for next year.

 

  1. Jimmy Butler, (68.47)

Despite being taken with the last pick of the first round in 2011, Butler has emerged as one of the biggest defensive stars in the league. His perimeter defense skills are rivaled by few, and he is generally viewed as the premier example of what effort and hustle can do for a player’s defensive ability. However, Butler has truly become a borderline all-around star with the continued development of his offensive game, as his scoring and assist numbers have greatly improved over the past two seasons. It remains to be seen how Butler will fit in with these new-look Chicago Bulls, but if history tends to repeat itself, Butler is in line for another strong season.

 

  1. Hassan Whiteside, (76.28)

Whiteside is a wildly talented – yet also untrustworthy – star who was taken with the 33rd pick of the 2010 draft. After off-court issues and immaturity kept him off the NBA courts for several years, Whiteside had a coming out party after signing with the Miami Heat in 2014-15. He basically had the role of being a big, long enforcer around the rim on both ends, staying in the paint for either putback dunks or rim protection. Since re-entering the NBA for good, Whiteside’s become an absolute force in the paint; but on the other hand, he can’t do much else, with an inability to defend on the perimeter or shoot from anything resembling distance, and as a result can slow down an offense trying to feed him the ball inside; all problems in a league trending toward small ball. Regardless of his deficiencies, when he’s on the court, Whiteside is an incredible talent and will be an All-Star candidate for the foreseeable future.

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Isaiah Thomas has become one of the league’s best despite almost missing out on being drafted back in 2011. Photo Credits: AP Photo
  1. Isaiah Thomas, (79.97)

Since being dubbed “Mr. Irrelevant” of the 2011 draft (the last overall pick), Thomas has made every team that passed on him regret it. An undersized (5’9”), quick, and crafty point guard coming out of Washington, Thomas was overlooked years ago due mostly to his height; yet since then, he has morphed his game into that of an offensive superstar. Thrust into a prominent role his rookie year, Thomas impressed by averaging 11.5 points per game and 4.1 assists per game. However, as his usage rate and minutes have climbed, his stats have only improved, as he now averages 22.2 ppg and 6.2 apg. Thomas’ shooting and driving offensive capabilities have made him one of the top guards in the league, and subsequently one of the biggest steals in the history of the draft.

 

  1. Draymond Green, (82.3)

Green has transformed himself into many things since being taken with the 35th pick in 2012. He’s become one of the most versatile players (if not the most versatile player) in basketball through his ability to both play five positions on offense and guard five positions on defense – and not only in bits and pieces, but consistently throughout a game. His ability to run the point yet also guard an opposing center – as well as his DPOY caliber defense – has made him one of the most valuable players in the NBA and the engine that makes the best team in the league run. However, he’s also become possibly the most polarizing figure in the sport; you either love his grit, effort, and hustle or you hate him because you think he plays dirty. Regardless of individual opinions, the stats speak for themselves, as he averaged 14 ppg, 7.4 apg, 9.5 rpg, 1.4 bpg, and 1.5 spg last season; numbers that nobody else in the league was able to match.

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Kawhi Leonard has become one of, if not the best, two-way player in the league since being drafted in 2011. Photo Credits: Getty Images
  1. Kawhi Leonard, (89.57)

Leonard has steadily improved each season since being taken with the 15th pick in 2011. He now finds himself as a perennial All-NBA first-teamer and MVP candidate, built on the strength of his consistently unbeatable defense. Last year’s DPOY, the Spurs know that they can give Leonard any assignment in the league at the 2, 3, or 4 and have their centerpiece shut them down for 48 minutes. However, Leonard had always been a strong defensive player, but the growth of his offensive game transformed him from a borderline all-star into one of the best players in the world, as his 3-point shooting percentage took a near 10% jump last season, and his scoring per game topped 20 for the first time in his career. Through hard work and dedication to his craft, Leonard has become the best two-way player in basketball – and has most certainly made the 14 teams that passed up on him look back on the draft with regret.

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, NBA.com, Basketball-Reference, and CBS Sports. Thanks for reading!

Written by Ben Koch

Cover Photo Credits: Getty Images

Draft Pick Analysis (2010-2014) #11 to #19

A continuation of last week’s article:

 

  1. Tobias Harris, Detroit Pistons (43.21)

Harris has been a bit of a mixed bag ever since entering into the league as the 19th pick in 2011. He’s been consistently above replacement level, but yet hasn’t shown the improvement that the league would’ve liked to have seen out of him considering his massive potential. He has a great mix of shooting ability, ball-handling skills, and size; yet defensively has been a different story. As is a problem with some tweener players, Harris is too slow to guard fast small forwards, yet not strong enough for bigger power forwards. Additionally, on offense, he’s been unreliable when asked to be a first option, rather playing better when the defense isn’t keyed in on him. At some point, you have to respect what Harris has done so far, averaging around 15 ppg for the last several years – yet at the same time, it’s easy to wish for so much more.

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Greg Monroe, a highly prized prospect coming out of Georgetown, has proven himself to be an above average big man in the NBA. Photo Credit: AP Photo
  1. Greg Monroe, Milwaukee Bucks (44.1)

Monroe has consistently been an above-average PF/C since coming into the league as the 7th pick in 2010. He provides a great blend of size, strength, and rebounding that still holds value in the NBA. However, his faults often stick out more than his strengths, especially on his new team. He’s only an okay defender, and he has never been able to spread the floor on offense. This is a huge problem for a Bucks team that had trouble shooting before their knock-down specialist Khris Middleton went down. However, even though at times he seems like he might not fit in with the Bucks, he still puts up big offensive numbers, keeping his rating here high.

  1. Mason Plumlee, (44.25)

Plumlee made an unexpected splash in his rookie year after becoming the 22nd pick of the 2013 draft, making the All-Rookie First Team. Even though he’s gone fairly under the radar since then, his numbers have actually improved each season. His scoring and rebounding have both increased year after year, while just this past season his assist totals took a big jump as he learned how to harness his surprisingly impressive ball-handling skills. As he learns to become a facilitator, Plumlee’s can carve out a unique role as a big man with athleticism who can score, rebound, and pass.

  1. Tristan Thompson, (44.3)

Thompson, taken with the fourth pick in 2011, makes a living off of doing the dirty work: rebounding the hell out of the basketball. No matter where he is when a shot is released, he’s always a good bet to end up with the ball due to sheer hustle. However, you can’t quantify hustle in numbers, which is why I was surprised to see him this high in the rankings. His basic stats (despite his obvious game-changing rebounding skill, he’s never averaged more than 9.4 rpg in a season) have never been quite impressive, and there aren’t a lot of advanced metrics that show glorify his strength. However, he shined in the Win Shares metric – finishing 22nd in the league – which fueled his ranking here. No matter; his spot is well-deserved.

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Klay Thompson, part of Golden State’s “Splash Brothers” with teammate Steph Curry, has gained a reputation for being a sharp-shooter. Photo Credit: Getty Images
  1. Klay Thompson, (46.44)

Thompson, taken with the 11th pick in the 2011 draft, has become a perennial all-star, arguably one of the best shooters of all time, and an NBA champion since entering the league five years ago. He and Steph Curry have formed one of the most formidable duos in the league, dubbed by the media the “Splash brothers”. Thompson has developed a reputation as being one of the best shooters in the league right now, possibly of all time. He’s also a lockdown defender, often guarding the best wing or guard available. Oh, yeah, and on top of that, the team he’s part of the backbone of happens to be the modern dynasty tearing apart the basketball world.

  1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, (46.91)

“The Greek Freak” is unlike anything the league has ever seen. He’s seven feet tall, moves like a track star, handles like a point guard, and defends the best of the best. Since being taken with the 15th pick in 2013, Giannis has made every team that passed on him regret it. He’s improved at an incredible rate year after year, and adds more to his game seemingly every time you see him play. Currently, he’s projected to do several things once the season begins: Play point guard and come closest in the league to averaging a triple double. Think I’m crazy? Last year, after being moved to the role of primary ball-handler, Antetokounmpo’s numbers immediately jumped as he put up triple-double after triple-double, transforming himself into a dishing-driving-boarding-scoring monster. This year, coach Jason Kidd has said that he wants Giannis to play a lot more point guard – which will, coupled with another year of development, will only improve his stats further. Oh, and best of all? He’s a year younger than Buddy Hield. Antetokounmpo seems sure to climb atop these rankings in the upcoming years as he cements his status as one of the best guard-wing-forward hybrids basketball has ever witnessed.

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Giannis Antetokounmpo, more commonly known as the “Greek Freak”, has made his presence felt since entering the league back in 2013. Photo Credits: Bleacher Report
  1. Rudy Gobert, (49.55)

Gobert, since being taken with the 27th pick in 2013, has blossomed into one of the best interior defenders in the league. Affectionately called the “Steiffel Tower” due to his French heritage and rim protecting skills, Gobert represents the epitome of an all-defensive center. However, that comes with its drawbacks, as his offense is extremely raw and has made little progress since he entered the bigs. That being said, his advanced metrics are still very strong due to his incredible defensive play, and when he’s on the floor, the Jazz are overall a better basketball team.

  1. Khris Middleton, (50.78)

Middleton, the 39th pick in the 2012 draft, has become the centerpiece of the Bucks in his short time in the league by becoming one of the best 3-and-D specialists in the league. He and The Greek Freak form the most formidable wing defensive team using their incredible length and athleticism. He’s also a deadly spot on shooter who became more of a playmaker last year, having his assist ratio jump from 14.8 to 18.5. However, he tore his hamstring in the preseason and is out for about 6 months, meaning that the Bucks will have to go the majority of the season without him – a daunting thought for a team with basically no other top-notch shooters.

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Reggie Jackson has proven himself to be a valuable player despite not having a reputation as one of the league’s best. Photo Credits: Getty Images
  1. Reggie Jackson, (51.56)

It took Jackson some time to develop on the Thunder after being taken in 2011 with the 24th pick, but year after year, he has continued to improve – with his PER rising from a lowly 9.22 his rookie season to a well above average 19.62 this past year. The biggest jump in Jackson’s game however, came when he was traded to the Pistons and finally broke out as a go-to threat, averaging 17.6 ppg upon being moved and 18.8 all of last season. Even though he hasn’t been particularly efficient reaching those numbers, taking a high volume of shots, his jump shot is on the rise and defensively he’s no slouch. For a Pistons team hoping to compete for a playoff spot though, Jackson will need to continue his improvement and hopefully emerge as a fringe all-star next to the likes of Kemba Walker, Isaiah Thomas, and even Kyle Lowry.

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, Basketball Reference, and CBS Sports. Thanks for reading the article and please join us again next week for #1 to #9!

Written by Ben Koch

Cover Photo Credits: AP Photo

Draft Pick Analysis (2010-2014) #20 to #25

Drafting has long been the key to building a successful NBA team. While free agent signings can be huge for any club, true dynasties aren’t built through spending money, but instead by investing time and energy into finding and developing talent. The proof is right before your eyes; take a look at the last three championship teams. The Spurs of 2014 built their core upon their homegrown stars: Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, and of course Tim Duncan. The Warriors in 2015 took home the title on the backs of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. Even the Cavaliers last year finally got Cleveland a championship by following the lead of LeBron James (who they did originally draft) and Kyrie Irving.

However, not all of these stars were the highly touted draft selections that players such as LeBron and Tim Duncan were. Tony Parker, a Hall of Fame candidate with four titles to his name, was taken with the 28th pick of the 2001 draft – 27 picks after Kwame Brown.

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Tony Parker, very likely a future hall of famer, has shown that where you’re drafted means nothing; Parker was drafted 27 spots behind Kwame Brown, possibly the biggest bust of all time. Photo Credits: Bleacher Report

The key to building rosters such as the Cavs, Spurs, and the Warriors’ is not tanking, as the 76ers would like to have you believe. Because while having high selections is definitely helpful, it is much more important that a team finds value with the pick they have.

Because of the success of these teams, we were curious about what the numbers would say about who the top value draft picks were over the last several years. We created a formula by assigning each draft choice a value between 1 and 30, with pick 1 having a value of 30 and pick 60 having a value of 1. From there, we selected the four best measures of a player’s productivity – PER, Win Shares, Win Shares per 48 minutes, and VORP – and weighted them so they would all have equal merit, then combined them together along with the pick value. The final formula we developed was:

(15 – Pick Value) + (PER/2) + ((WS X (2 X WS/48)) X 5) + (VORP X 1.5)

The theory behind our methodology was that, yes, if a team drafts LeBron James with the first overall pick, that is still a great choice, as LeBron is arguably the best player in the NBA and has more than returned the value that comes with being the first selection. However, taking LeBron with the 60th pick would be a much better selection, as the value he provides much exceeds what is commonly expected out of that choice. Make sense?

With that being said, here are the rankings of the top 25 best value selections of the drafts between 2010-2014 (we decided to exclude rookies). Their values are listed in parentheses next to their names. Please feel free to contact us with any questions. Enjoy!

 

Honorable Mentions

Will Barton, Denver Nuggets (41.03)

“Will the Thrill” offers an interesting case. Taken with the 40th pick in 2012 by Portland, Barton was a bit of a late bloomer, not playing significant minutes until being traded to Denver in the middle of his third season. However, after that, his numbers improved across the board and he became a consistent presence on the up-and-coming Nuggets. Barton still has a lot of potential to improve and could move farther up this list in the future.

Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets (41.36)

After being taken with the 22nd pick of the 2011 draft out of Morehead State, “The Manimal” immediately proved to be a pleasant surprise for Denver, averaging over 10 points per game during his rookie season while playing with one of the highest motors in the league. However, while his never-stalling energy remained, he hasn’t progressed at the rate the Nuggets would have wished. Regardless, his consistent positive presence was enough to place him here.

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Kenneth Faried, nicknamed the “Manimal”, has been a pleasant surprise for a sub-par Denver team. Photo Credits: Getty Images

#25 to #20:

  1. Chandler Parsons, Memphis Grizzlies (41.44)

Parsons came in with few expectations as the 38th choice in 2011, but soon transformed himself into a key rotational piece. Parsons has been known throughout his career to give a little bit of everything. He usually slots in as a small forward, but blessed with a 6’10” frame he can also slide over to the 4 in small ball lineups. He puts up points, rebounds, passes and defends all at solid levels and was immediately viewed as a steal when the Rockets snagged him in the second round.

  1. Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz (41.72)

Hood came on strong this year after a mediocre rookie year, when he was selected with the 23rd pick in the 2014 draft. His numbers went up across the board in his age-23 season, and the Duke product is viewed as one of the core members of a Jazz team that should be extremely competitive this season.

  1. Enes Kanter, Oklahoma City Thunder (41.91)

Kanter is a strange case by the numbers. Although he’s an important piece on a good Thunder team, Kanter has never truly been seen as very good despite strong statistical measures, such as a 24.09 PER. This is because of his defense. Even though there have been efforts to create trustworthy defensive advanced analytics, it’s difficult to quantify a part of the sport that is all about effort, intensity, and athleticism. Because of this, his bad defense doesn’t really show in his strong numbers. I’m not disputing that Kanter is a good player – it clearly takes skill to put up his offensive numbers. However, his terrible defense knocks him down a couple of pegs in my mind despite his ranking here. That and the fact that he was once a third overall pick, and Kanter probably shouldn’t be ranked this high.

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Oftentimes more recognized for being part of the “stache bros” than for his play, Enes Kanter has actually been quite good on the court. Photo Credits: AP Photo
  1. Ed Davis, Portland Trail Blazers (42.22)

Davis is the best player nobody knows about. He was drafted in a pretty good spot (13th), has played on some pretty good teams (Toronto. Memphis, Portland), has put up some pretty good numbers (18.76 PER), and has played pretty good defense. He lets his pretty good teammates on his pretty good teams make some pretty good plays (he has a low usage rate), and when he is called upon, he does, well, pretty good.

  1. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons (42.43)

Drummond is an absolute monster who rebounds like few the NBA have ever seen. His traditional statistics have improved every year, while his advanced statistics have remained elite despite his usage climbing higher each year. The only thing holding him back here is his high draft status, as a ninth overall pick. Despite his ranking here though, I don’t know if the Pistons would rather have anyone but him. He’s huge, improving, locked up long term, and still only 23.

  1. Gorgui Dieng, Minnesota Timberwolves (43.07)

Dieng has become one of the core members on a young, upcoming Timberwolves team after being drafted with the 21st pick in 2013. After a mediocre rookie season, Dieng showed shocking development for an already-24 mid-range draft pick, averaging 9.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2 apg, and 1.7 bpg (up from 4.8, 5, .7, and .8 respectively). He’s improved his defensive and shooting skills each year, and has proven himself as a solid starting-caliber center.

 

Check out the blog later this week to see #19 to #1. Data courtesy of ESPN, Basketball Reference, and Sports Reference. Thanks for reading!

Written by Ben Koch

Cover Photo Credits: Getty Images