2017 Draft Big Board: Tiers 1 and 2

Disclaimers:

  1. This is the first year I’ve “fully committed” to draft evaluation throughout the entirety of the process, meaning seeing most of these prospects pre-college at the Hoop Summit in 2016 as well as following the college season for the duration of the year instead of retroactively going back and watching tape after the NBA regular season. As such I went *a touch* more in-depth at the top of the draft in effort to transparently get my ideas in detail on paper, both as a reference point for myself and for whoever reads this. The remainder of my board wont be this long or detailed.
  2. As for what philosophically constitutes (or should constitute) a big board that isn’t team specific, that’s clearly up for debate. I don’t see a ton of value in “in a vacuum” rankings that can’t take into account highly important variables like team fit and player development, but I try my best to build in components such as opportunity ( I reflected on this in December) and rank in general tiers that afford some flexibility for unknown outcomes.
  3. My scouting philosophy is mostly covered in the above link, as well as on both my own podcast (WhatsonDraftNBADraftShow) or the Ode to Oden podcast (just listen to my guest appearance episodes, this is a primary market competitor after all). But I rank in general on three levels: 1) star talent within valuable archetypes (such as primary initiators, two-way primary wing scorers etc)  2) superstar role players/starters who project to contribute to winning basketball and 3) players who fill a role in the league.
  4. If you aren’t familiar with the archetype system, it’s probably best to have a cursory understanding of my methodology prior to reading this. A few pivotal points here: this is not a precise system. It is merely a tool to help identify valuable skills and traits that project into various roles in the league by understanding what specific skills and roles are actually valuable in the league. I’m obviously big on being able to fit a player into a conceptual framework and view player roles, especially on a title caliber team, as more important than rudimentary (PG, SG, SF etc or “ability to create his own shot!) thinking. This system can really be a bias creator however, especially comparison wise, if the intent is not understood. It is not meant to be a mass player comparison tool. It’s simply a way to understand stylistic, skill and role similarities that help me evaluate and process how prospects will translate to the NBA. This framework also doesn’t capture everyone (we’ll see this with Lonzo), and just because someone doesn’t fit into the framework cleanly doesn’t mean they don’t project in a positive way to the next level. Again, it’s best to interpret the player comparisons below as similar “archetypes”, not precisely the same player (though I do try to modify).
  5. Just for transparency in terms of my process: I watched probably 10-15 games of each of the following players this year after seeing most in person before college, and went back to re-watch possessions on Synergy after the season. I included a lot of my scouting notes in tiers 1 and 2 to again put precise thoughts on paper.
  6. I don’t have a lot of strong takes on this class, as you’ll see by the second tier. I’m not one to offer takes if I don’t have them, and to me this a flawed class after Fultz that I don’t have a precise enough read on to really segment between especially the second tier (I of course have stronger leans if certain players go to specific teams).  I gave order estimates within each tier just for retroactive assessment purposes, and justify my thought-process. I’ll also re-rank these players post draft based on destination.

Without further ado.. (grab some coffee)

Tier 1

1.MARKELLE FULTZ

16 hsum fultz01

(USA Basketball)

NBA Position Range: Category 6 Dribble-Driver (Floor) -> Category 3 Offensive Scheme-Changer 3-Level Scorer (Median Outcome) -> Category 3 Offensive Scheme Changer Outlier 3-Level Playmaking Initiator (Ceiling Outcome)

Age (At Time of Draft): 19

Potential Blue Chip Skills: 3-level scoring playmaking initiator, pick-and-roll creation, pull-up shooting.

Positional Size/Tools: Ideal measurables for a modern lead guard at 6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan and strong/burgeoning 195 frame that looks capable of strength addition. Late bloomer.

Shooting:

Spot Up: Fluid mechanics with angled feet. A bit of a longer gather with a ball dip. Prefers to catch off the 1-2. Usually holds his follow-through. Has to be guarded.

Off the Dribble: Fluid, one-motion mechanics with a high release point and can elevate comfortably over contests. Strong core and lower body aids upward motion and allows for greater range with plus arc. Only 2/10 from NBA 3 but has the strength and mechanics to extend out. Solid footwork hopping into his pull-up going right and utilizing the 1-2 going left. Creates airspace with ease with his step-back. Threat of and the suddenness of his pull-up jumper going either direction aids his handling and driving ability. Profiles as a difficult shot-maker who can make fadeaways going either direction. Can sometimes shoot on the way down.

Off Screen/Motion: Shows the ability to square up on flare screens. Can catch on the hop moving to his left and shoot from distance fluidly. Looks to have shooting off pin-down potential with his size and ability to square up quickly.

Creation:

First Step/Burst: Lacks dynamic burst or an explosive first step off a live dribble or triple-threat, instead relying on his handle and deceptiveness to create space.

Handle: Original smooth jitterbug handling style that creates space at will. Upright dribbler at the top of his move who wins almost entirely with his actual handle by way of change of speed and direction shiftiness, deception, flexibility and the ability to pull-up on a dime going any direction, at any moment. Natural shake. Lacks dynamic burst or an explosive first step, but is able to compensate with slipperiness. Keeps his head up to survey the court. Can sink low with the ball in traffic against a set defense. Advanced toolbox of dribble moves for his age. Can play off hang-dribbles going either direction, hesitations, double crossovers, behind the back dribbles, in-and-out dribbles to freeze bigs, a deadly quick right-to-left spin, and through-the-legs step-backs to create space. Vast array of moves going right or left make him unpredictable.

Pick-And-Roll: Knack for splitting the pick-and-roll. Can snake back and get to his mid-range pull-up via a step-back. Sometimes struggles to turn the corner when bigs hard hedge given lack of elite burst. Can pass over the top (right hand hook) with size. Likes to probe on dribble-drives as well as hold the big on hard hedges stringing them out and giving his big man time to roll, but will also hit bigs immediately over the top popping out. Shows patience to let pocket pass opportunities materialize. Can hit the weak side shooter on skips after splitting. Usually makes the simple read one pass away to the corner when the perimeter defender digs down.

Driving/Finishing: Not a top-shelf explosive athlete, but can play above the rim off one foot in traffic without a gather due to size and length. Easily elevates off two feet in space. Long-strider. Body control and craft around the rim is reminiscent some of Kyrie Irving (not touch). Flexible athlete who can bend his hips and contort his body to make adjustments in mid-air, giving him crafty improvisational unpredictability to combat NBA rim protectors. Ambidextrous finisher who gets great length extension. Has the strong burgeoning frame to finish through contact. Can use a shoulder dip to create space on drives. Flashes euro-step footwork and agility to step around bigs at the rim even in the half-court. Can take negative dribbles and stop short of the basket on rim attacks that result in low percentage runners (average touch here).

Post Up: Has the frame, scoring fluidity, ability to carve out space and passing chops to eventually become a post threat in the NBA against smaller guards ala D’Angelo Russell.

Cutting: Not a lot of experience here outside of finding holes in zone defenses.

Passing/Vision: Creative passer with the functional athleticism to unleash high degree of difficulty passes on the move. Best pass of the year on the spin wrap-around against CSUF. Comfortable making right-hand one-hand passes, and flashes the ability to do the same with his left. Flashes the ability to make quick skip reads at high velocity. Makes simple pass reading the dig man against 3-2 zones and on kick-outs one pass away. Willing passer. Can fire bounce passes into small target areas. Crafty wrap around passer and drop-off passer to bigs in the dunker position on the move. Passes are usually on target and crisp.

Decision-Making: Solid decision-maker who for the most part makes the simple play and right read. Does settle for midrange contested twos too often instead of getting all the way to the basket or swinging the ball. Dribbles into congested areas of the court without a plan. Not the most polished pick-and-roll player yet in terms of reading coverages, and gets away with some plays based on sheer talent.

Defense/Rebounding:

On Ball: Hunched over in his stance. Tries to anticipate in pick-and-roll and hops out of position. Usually switches in pick-and-roll so it’s hard to gauge ability to stay attached, but lacks elite foot-speed and tends to die on screens a fair amount. Has the strength, length, and anticipation to apply back pressure in pick-and-roll affecting shots on a player’s hip. Rare shot-blocking instincts and timing on chase down blocks. Has the reach to challenge shots 1-3. Not a quick-twitch athlete and long-strides limit his short area reactionary quickness on-ball. Has the frame to absorb contact defending in isolation without getting dislodged backwards. Flashes footwork using outside foot to chase over the top of picks, but was inconsistent. UW played a lot of 2-3 zone, which could have been responsible for some of focus and engagement issues. Profiles best as a non-liability defender given likely offensive usage due to his frame and length.

Off Ball: Got back-door cut too frequently overextending on the perimeter and over-helping (UW’s scheme is notoriously overaggressive on the perimeter leading to back cuts). Effort and technique on closeouts was inconsistent. Rarely in a stance off ball, but does try to make rotations. Has issues navigating screens at times in lock-and-trail settings. Best defensive anticipation tape is U18s, and his likely defensive output is probably somewhere in-between that tape and UW.

Rebounding: Above average rebounding profile for a lead guard given his size and length. Willing to crash down and chase on the glass.

On-Court Intangibles: Looks like he floats intensity wise at times in terms of body language, in large part because he makes the game look easy stylistically. Introvert and quiet nature off the court carries onto the court where he isn’t a dynamic personality presence.

College Team Context: Washington was one of the worst personnel situations in the country for any of the top-level prospects. UW almost always played two traditional bigs between Sam Timmins, Noah Dickerson and Malik Dime. Dickerson could shoot a little from mid-range but there wasn’t a legitimate pick-and-pop threat, and the two bigs cramped spacing. On the perimeter David Crisp (36.7% from 3) was a streak shooter/scorer but afforded some secondary creation whereas Matisse Thybulle (40.5% from 3) was a straight college “3&D” player with no creation equity. Basically, Fultz had an enormous offensive creation burden with little secondary creation and a collapsed court spacing wise. Defensively, UW’s 2-3 zone and notorious overextending man defense on the perimeter leading to backcuts galore was exacerbated by only having one interior rim protector in Dime who only played 20 games.

Flags: Team record (I’m kidding), FT%.

Stats Profile:

*Percentiles (includes most drafted lead guards since 2003, not just groupings):

Red 0-25%, Yellow 25-75%, Light Green 75%+

40 Minutes Pace Adjusted Lead Guard Comparables

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Efficiency

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Usage

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For context and stats on pull-up shooting, check out the article I wrote for the Step Back.

Pick-and-Roll Ball-Handler Finishing Possessions

(Minimum 100 poss. Drafted Lead Guards Since 2007)

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% Assisted at the Rim/Unassisted Rim Attempts Per 40 Minutes

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NBA 3s (Total)

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Translation/How He’ll Win in the NBA: Fultz is the embodiment of everything you want in a modern NBA lead guard outside of non-elite athleticism. He has the self-creation gravity to potentially bend defenses at the point of attack and create offense for his teammates by his mere presence on-ball, while also having underrated vision and creativity as a passer secondarily to locate teammates. If his shot-making off the dribble translates as expected defenses will have to chase over the top of picks in middle pick-and-roll, an imperative input for most primary initiators in today’s given how pick-and-rolls are the fulcrum of most offenses. Fultz’s handling ability is legitimately advanced for a player his age. He can win in space with ease in isolation/switching situations creating space, dictating coverages from defenses. Lead guards who can shoot 3s off the dribble (Kevin Pelton wrote an excellent article on this) and score at all 3 levels proficiently are insanely valuable in the modern game. Fultz’s handle and shake unearths his potential in this regard. His catch-and-shoot ability, while not a surefire bet, should also enable him to play off ball and space the floor. He isn’t a dynamic off-ball cutter or high awareness mover in the Ball mold, but teams will likely have to guard him on the perimeter (there is some drawback because of his FT% and lack of control in those settings, but he has enough positive indicators on tape to project his shot here), and that in itself has value. Modern NBA lead guards in almost every circumstance have to be able to score, especially as the league continues to shift towards more switching defenses, and Fultz is a high-level scoring prospect but also adds legitimate playmaking for others craft, a deadly combination.

Best Team Fit: Whoever Drafts #1

Fultz fits in basically any scheme as a primary initiator or a co-primary initiator, and if you believe in his shot off-ball he can be employed in versatile ways (he’s optimized on ball but can still hold value off ball). Ideally a team would have a wing (like Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot potentially) who can guard opposing lead guards at the point of attack and allow Fultz to check the least proficient offensive wing player on the other team, where he can save energy to expend on offense and negate his lack of quickness (he’s strong and long enough to guard twos and some threes).

Fultz ran  a pick-and-roll heavy system at Washington, so it’ll be interesting to see if he can be utilized in a more motion style scheme, especially with the Sixers who already have an initiator in Simmons.

Outcome Range/Player Comparison:

Floor Outcome: More Athletic Early Career D’Angelo Russell

Median Outcome: Iteration of Better Playmaking For Others Kyrie Irving (Shooting Variance)

Ceiling Outcome: James Harden (Without the chest strength)

Ranking Justification: I again don’t have a lot of strong takes in this class, but Fultz is the clear #1 player on film for me. The popular adage is that he’s “the safest” prospect at the top, and there is definitely some credence to that. But that does a disservice to his high upside attributes such as his 3-level scoring prowess and pull-up shooting. His passing vision and creativity is also one of the most underrated skill-sets in the draft for me. If he played in a spread system at UW where he had legitimate spacing and talent around him to operate those elements would have been on display in more obvious fashion. It’s just incredibly rare to find a lead guard prospect this skilled at his age in so many facets of the game who also looks to have a relatively high awareness floor.

Fultz has has the self-creation gravity to bend defenses with his scoring and unlock passing opportunities and lanes not available to others who don’t command that on-ball respect. He’s a far more skilled on-ball as a ball-handler, pick-and-roll scorer and difficult shot-maker than Lonzo Ball, and has better tools via height and length than Dennis Smith (not to mention superior college production in an analogous setting). Fultz’s edge in value being a primary initiator/lead guard on offense laps Ball’s more off-ball profile for me, and he’s just a better bet to be a plus initiator than Smith at this juncture. Ergo why I have him in his own tier.

I don’t think Fultz is a generational franchise altering prospect talent like a Kevin Durant type, but he is arguably the best lead guard *prospect* since Chris Paul. The biggest thing working against him is historically guards of his ilk usually aren’t the #1 players on a title on team (you see exceptions like Billups, Parker arguably and of course Curry). But there are legitimate avenues for him to be the #2 player on a title team, and potentially even that #1 guy after this outlier current landscape of “franchise players” in LeBron (in his own tier), Durant, Curry and Leonard all move on. If the Sixers trade goes through it’s easily foreseeable to see Fultz filling an Irving role to Simmons’ LeBron (this is obviously a tempered down version, just going at style), and of course that duo will be buttressed by perhaps an even more impactful player in Embiid.

Overall, Fultz is a solid number 1 pick in any draft, and his overall package of valuable translatable skills on ball combined with his physical tools renders him in a class of his own here.

Tier 2

2.DENNIS SMITH JR.

(Range: 2-3)

NBA Position Range: Category 2 Lead Guard (Outlier Athleticism/Tools)

Age (At Time of Draft): 19

Potential Blue Chip Skills: 3-Level Scoring

Positional Size/Tools/Frame: Average height for a modern lead guard at 6-foot-3 with an average 6-foot-5 wingspan (unofficial updated measurement). Compact, sturdy frame at 195 pounds with established core strength. Still adding lower body leg strength, but has a strong base. Low center of gravity. Plus speed in the open court but doesn’t have dynamic top-end speed. Explosive speed to power athlete.

Shooting:

Spot Up: Can do a better job catching in shooting position, which he’ll need to at his size to expedite his release. Overqualified first step to attack closeouts. Sometimes catches on hop or the 1-2. Dips the ball, but gets good sway. Doesn’t always follow through. Had a few bad side to side misses. Needs to go right away attacking closeouts more instead of catching and holding.

Off the Dribble: Dynamic volume shot-maker off the dribble with legitimate NBA range whose mechanics enable him to be an unpredictable difficult shot-maker. Fluid and often effortless release despite being more of a shot-maker than a pure shooter. Deep range with plus energy transference through the shooting process with great upward motion with his lower body and core strength. Gets good arc. 16/39 on NBA range 3s from 24-30 feet above the break. Good footwork stepping into his shot off the 1-2. Can also hop into his shot transitioning from dribble moves. Angles his feet for better alignment and often times snaps his wrist despite inconsistent follow-through. Rotation on the shot appears to be a plus. Can really elevate on his shot when he needs to, albeit he has inconsistent elevation overall that causes some mechanical inconsistency. Deviates between a one-motion and two-motion release depending on elevation and contests. Shows good footwork to hop back on step backs. Prefers to pull-up going left but can also do so attacking right.

Off Screen/Motion: Not a large sample here but shows the ability to shoot off motion on the hop going left with range in dribble hand-off situations. Can relocate to the corner off-ball and hop into 3s. A lot of these actions were off baseline out-of-bounds or sideline out-of-bounds situations. Flashes ability to square up quickly on the move.

Creation:

First Step/Burst: Inconsistent first step, but can be lightning quick, especially out of triple threat where he uses jabs threats to create deception. Can get low and explode quickly with sub-elite burst to the rim. Fluctuations in athleticism display seemed to be associated some with mentality wavering between passiveness and aggressiveness, but there are times where he isn’t dynamic here off a live dribble (Notre Dame game). Doesn’t have transcendent quickness but when you pair the threat of a shot with deception with the ball his first step is legitimate.

Handle: Wins both getting lower and exploding towards the rim as well as with deception playing off dribble moves. Attacks both left and right, but prefers left. Can dip incredibly low with the ball and navigate confined spaces against set defenses in traffic. Assortment of dribble moves ranging from hang dribbles to hesitation crossovers, and thrives creating space via step backs. Low and tight handle with choppy dribbles profiles well to the next level. Shifty athlete with the ball who has the handle and natural shake to create space.

*For clips and an in-depth breakdown of Smith’s ball-handling check out my piece on the Step Back HERE.

Pick-And-Roll: Excels setting picks up with some deceptive handling and jab steps to get defenders off balance, and can reject when the defender is out of position. Also shows the ability to split getting low with his handle and then exploding. Can make pocket passes or skips reasonably well, the two most important passes in basketball. Already has a solid in-and-out dribble move as well as various hesitation and crossover moves to freeze and beat over and drop bigs in space. Struggles to pass over the top of the defense at times due to his lack of height, but cans step through with strength on double teams. Unpolished pick-and-roll creator. Likes to string out big defenders with extra dribbles instead of making immediate passes. Hasn’t found the harmony in when to pick up his dribble when pressured and when to make the simple pass.

Driving/Finishing: Explosive off one or two feet in space, and can gather to elevate off two quicker than most. Not going to dunk on everyone in traffic but gets plus vertical pop even in traffic which enables his craftiness. In-air adjuster who excels hanging in the air and reacting to defenders with up-and-unders. Smooth footwork and body control navigating his way to the basket, including the ability to de-accelerate. Ambidextrous and prefers to both drive and finish left. Can explode through NBA rim protectors getting downhill with a head of steam running through bigger bodies (he easily bulldozes through guards) and can finish through contact either squared up or with a shoulder dip. Rarely gets dislodged of his spots due to his balance and strong frame. A little tight in the upper body due to strong frame and can’t contort or bend in elite fashion. Lacks elite touch at high speeds. Doesn’t have dynamic side to side agility via euro-steps to step around bodies and lacks an advanced floater game.

*For clips and stats of Smith’s driving and finishing acumen check out my piece for the Step Back HERE.

Passing/Vision: Creative passer especially on right one-handed skip passes on the move. Is willing to and can make target passes into tight windows. Vision is above average, as he can locate open teammates well from a standstill and fairly well on the move attacking the basket on drop-offs and kick-outs. Shows some drive-and-kick prowess but too often drives into the teeth of the defense with multiple defenders and doesn’t pass out. Passing accuracy and tempo were notably poor especially to start the year. Fired rockets one pass away in close proximity to teammates that required more touch. Doesn’t pass teammates open and is a half-second late at times anticipating teammates freeing themselves, but when he’s willing he usually finds them. A better isolation than pick-and-roll passer at this juncture. Flashes the ability to manipulate defenders with ball fakes.

Decision-Making: Decision-making as a passer seemed to improve as the season progressed (made some horrendous decisions against Rider and McNeese State). Consistently settles for contested 2-point jumpers instead of making the easy read to teammates. Often times tried to force the issue on high-degree-of-difficulty passes (pocket passes, skips into traffic) rather than just making the simple play. Forced the issue telegraphing lobs the dive man in pick-and-roll too frequently without reading the weak side defender. Left his feet to pass at times. Takes some early clock shots that show lack of shot clock awareness. Settles and hunts his own shot. Gets stuck attacking dead areas of the defense like the baseline and lacks some anticipation to read defenses. Prone to off ball drifting on offense not playing within the scheme.

Defense/Rebounding:

On Ball: Low intensity defender. Explosive laterally when engaged and in his stance. Can really sink down in his stance and slide with short, choppy steps. Physical defender who can pressure the ball at the point of attack. Has the strength to absorb contact getting into bodies without getting dislodged, and can chase over the top on picks well staying attached absorbing contact without getting knocked off course by screeners. Has the strength to switch onto some wings and anchor without giving up position. Fast hands on-ball always looking to swipe at exposed dribbles when engaged. Frequently apathetic on-ball not getting into his stance and staying too upright, leading to blow-bys. Has the recovery speed in pick-and-roll to chase ball-handlers down and stay on hips to alter shots with physicality, but often doesn’t display the effort to do so. Doesn’t have the reach to contest shots effectively on the perimeter, nor the tools to survive effectively at the next level without more effort.

Off Ball: Strong anticipation skills in passing lanes, especially one pass away. Solid instincts digging down opportunistically for steals from the perimeter. Apathetic versus instincts clash. Rarely in a stance off-ball, and floats too frequently. Undisciplined defender who at times doesn’t even try to make rotations, instead either drifting without purpose or over-aggressively trying to create events. Consistently tries to shoot gaps and blows switches. Closeout technique is poor, often times just lunging aimlessly at shooters which leads to easy blow-bys.

Rebounding: Shows flashes of tracking defensive rebounds down and high-pointing them crashing down from the perimeter. Not the most active rebounder and sometimes his team appears to give him stat-padding freebies.

On-Court Intangibles: By all indications a smart kid, but is reportedly exceedingly hard on his teammates, which manifests with body language on the floor. Leadership last season was non-existent. Body language on the floor at times throwing his arms up and even subbing himself out of the North Carolina game cast doubt on his ability to lead a franchise. Issues seem to stem from on-court frustration rather than being a notably red flag character prospect off the court.

College Team Context: NC State was an unmitigated disaster. Smith didn’t operate with ideal spacing, as the Wolfpack started the year with two traditional bigs in the starting lineup, Abdul-Malik Abu and BeeJay Anya, before inserting Omer Yurtseven in place of Anya, who is more of a mid-range threat and was probably the most disappointing player in college basketball this year. Opposing teams also fixated on Smith almost entirely with consistent traps (see Florida State tape) with only freshman Markell Johnson able to provide any secondary playmaking. Smith had notably bad chemistry with Omer Yurtseven especially, who would pick and pop for example when Smith was expecting him to roll, or stop short on a short roll instead of rolling all the way to the basket.

Yellow Flags: Effort level (especially on defense), leadership, team record, health status via ACL surgeries, turnovers.

Stats Profile:

*Percentiles (includes most drafted lead guards since 2003, not just groupings):

Red 0-25%, Yellow 25-75%, Light Green 75%+

40 Minutes Pace Adjusted Lead Guard Comparables

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Efficiency

DSJ2

Usage

DSJ3.png

% Assisted at the Rim/Unassisted Rim Attempts Per 40 Minutes

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NBA 3s (Total)

DBHwAZUUAAApCLE.jpg

For clips and an in-depth breakdown on Smith’s volume shot creation via isolation and off the dribble, check out my article at the Step Back HERE.

Translation/How He’ll Win in the NBA: Smith’s translatable intrigue centers mostly around his on-ball combination of off the dribble shot creation, advanced handle, and capable playmaking. Ideally used in a spread pick-and-roll system, Smith has the burst and skill to bend defenses as a self-creator with the ability to create space, and his ceiling outcome will rest of course on scoring efficiency and how high much he improves as a passer and decision-maker.

I also think Smith showed signs of being a capable off-ball player. He shoots well on uncontested catch and shoot situations, and flashed the ability to shoot off movement, as well as back-cut and finish when defenders lost sight of him. Like most primary handlers who aren’t high-level creators for others, Smith would benefit from playing next to another strong perimeter shot-creator so he isn’t the sole initiator.

Best Team/Scheme Fit: Dallas Mavericks, Spread Pick-and-Roll Elements

Smith would greatly benefit from a coach of Rick Carlisle’s caliber, even if there would be personality clashing issues at times. Smith needs an established coach who can cultivate his talent, and this spot certainly fits the bill.

Dallas is the spread pick-and-roll machine, which should ease Smith’s transition in generating more driving and passing lanes, as well as simplifying reads in less traffic as he learns the subtleties of playmaking out of pick-and-roll especially.

Outcome Range/Player Comparison:

Floor Outcome: Early Career Kemba Walker (Pre-Shooting)

Median Outcome: Superior Offensive Eric Bledsoe But Lesser of a Defender

Ceiling Outcome: Better Defensive Damian Lillard

Justification: We’ve seen athletic lead guards in the past be perhaps the biggest benefactors of NBA spacing and talent improvement out of any “positional” group. Smith profiles as next in line in this regard. Smith really has two avenues to become an impact lead guard in the NBA. The first is via athleticism (shiftiness, burst to get to spots, explosiveness around the rim). It’s entirely possible he was not operating at full capacity physically this past season and there could be more athletic upside that has not been unveiled in terms of quickness and explosiveness. I also think there is upside mentally in terms of having the confidence in his body to attack more. It takes players coming off a significant injury time to regain confidence like Mark Gottfied noted in the New York Post. There were notable times last season where Smith pulled reigns off against athletes in the open court like Frank Jackson, signaling Smith *might not* have full confidence in his body yet. There is enough intrigue here to skew me more towards an optimistic approach.

Right now Smith is more akin to Eric Bledsoe than the truly transcendent athlete types (in terms of burst and quickness especially) like Westbrook, Rose and Wall. But even if Smith doesn’t get a slight boost over several athletic areas, he can also get to sub-elite status impact-wise by dynamic off-the-dribble shooting, and his shooting mechanics are far superior to his counterparts here. A lot of buying into Smith is buying into his shot, especially off the dribble in order to create scheme-changing opportunities and force defenders to play up on him. I am buying.

Overall, I value Smith’s 3-level scoring prowess and capable playmaking in an initiation sense more than most. It’s easier to foresee his NBA translatable success in some respects than it is for Ball, the latter who I feel more comfortable if I know the situation ahead of time instead of operating in a vacuum ranking setting. Smith gets picked apart for his character and his lack of team success, and while someone like Fultz was more productive/efficient, their situations weren’t all that dissimilar, and Smith is taking a lot more heat. You don’t find athletic guards often with Smith’s shooting mechanics and skill-level as a high volume creator for his age. A lot of his NBA success will hinge on effort, and he’ll be a fascinating test case to see if motor can improve at the next level.

3.LONZO BALL

(Range: 2-3)

NBA Position Range: N/A (I’m not even going here)

Age (At Time of Draft): 19

Potential Blue Chip Skills: Decision-making, Passing, Spot Up Shooting

Positional Size/Tools/Frame: Outstanding height for a guard at 6-foot-6 with a legit near 6-foot-9 wingspan. 190 pound frame but a more slender build without plus core strength. Plays smaller than his size from a physical perspective. Can add strength but doesn’t look to the extent of being difference-making.

Shooting:

Spot Up: Consistent, but unconventional shooting form, where he brings the ball around the left side of his head and then snaps it across his face. Low release point. Angled alignment to the left. Usually catches on the hop to expedite release and catches ready to shoot. Comfortable deep range increases translatability of shot given extra space. Emphasis off-ball will be placed on closing out to Ball’s left side, contesting his low shot line there in running him off the line and forcing him to relocate on side-steps on fly-bys to his right, a more difficult shot for him to hop into. Ultra-confident shooter.

Off the Dribble: Fluid shooting off the dribble going left.  Angles his feet and hips for better alignment, gets good pop off the balls of his feet which enables good energy transformation and enhanced range, uses fluid footwork to hop into his shot and he ends his form with good overall alignment snapping his wrist. Pull-up shooting going right needs more time and space than typical shot-makers as he has to gather, align his hips and feet back to the left, and bring the ball back to his left side (long gather, where he has to kill his forward momentum, re-align and shoot). A lot of college pull-up shooting was predictable step-backs to his left. Will it translate against superior athleticism and game-planning? Every scouting report in the NBA will tell defenders to sit on his left hand and force him right. At the point of attack in middle pick-and-rolls, defenders will likely open up and shade to the right early encouraging a drive that way.

*See me article on The Step Back for a more comprehensive view on Ball’s off the dribble shot-making

Off Screen/Motion: Can relocate on flare screens squaring up going left off the hop. Flashes ability to come off a pin-down and quickly square up going left. Promising footwork shooting off pin-downs going right, digging his right foot in and hopping into a fluid step-back getting the ball to his left side. Will be a threat to shoot quickly of dribble hand-offs especially going left at the next level.

Creation:

First Step/Burst: Doesn’t have an explosive first step out of triple threat or off a live dribble due to predictability. Above average burst from a standstill and very underrated top-end speed with a head of steam.

Handle: Rudimentary handle for a primary initiator limited to basic crossovers and hesitations, but does a tremendous job keeping his head up. Loose dribble at times limited by his inflexibility to sink low to the ground with tight hips. Doesn’t have a lot of dribble moves to separate in his toolbox, and struggled to separate from NBA athletes on the perimeter like De’Anthony Melton, Malik Monk, and Kobi Simmons. Lacks shake, and isn’t shifty or deceptive as a handler, instead being upright and stiff. Can he navigate tight spaces against set NBA defenses? Settled too often against bigs on switches (Lauri Markkanen, Bam Adebayo, Derrick Willis). Can he win 1 on 1 matchups against more athletic NBA bigs on switches in space?

*For clips and an in-depth breakdown of Ball’s handle, check out my piece on the Step Back

Pick-And-Roll: Deep range and proficiency on step-back 3s going left likely necessitate chasing over the top on him, opening up enhanced opportunities with his outstanding vision. Flashes the ability to snake back to his left in over-and-drop coverage, but rarely shot from mid-range in pick-and-roll at UCLA. Very adept making simple pick-and-roll reads. Lack of a plus handle limits his ability to probe in tight spaces. Faced a lot of hard hedges and made proper reads to hit the screener immediately over the top. Rarely gets all the way into the teeth of the defense out of pick-and-roll (some scheme related), and almost never strings out the big who hard hedges. Pick-and-roll scoring best out of early offense setting the pick out farther to allow momentum build-up.

Reads the tag defender consistently. Can pass over the top with size and length on right hand hook passes. Can make pocket passes. Rarely rejects, but flashes ability to drive and kick on impressive skips. Does force some passes to the dive man when other cleaner reads are available. High turnover rate in pick-and-roll but not concerning as far as ability to make reads even with limited experience due to high school scheme. Limited mostly by handle in confined spaces.

Driving/Finishing: Mostly a straight-line driver with above average burst. Very underrated athlete top-end speed wise with a head of steam in transition. Lacks explosiveness in traffic off one foot. Uprightness limits his ability to adjust in air and contort his body to react to length. Very rigid around the basket who can’t bend. Lacks natural ability to de-accelerate at high speeds, resulting in hard misses off the backboard. Not a physical driver who seeks contact or finishes through bodies at the rim. Slashing instincts are raw. Too often stops too far out from the basket on dribble-drives when he does drive instead of getting all the way to the rim. Not a natural side-stepper around bodies due to lack of fluid agility. Flashes plus footwork on jump-stops.  Overpasses attacking the rim instead of challenging bigs 1 on 1. Raw floater game that doesn’t inspire much confidence in terms of touch. Rarely ever gets to the line.

*Click HERE for a breakdown of Ball’s on-ball versus off-ball finishing

Cutting: Elite off-ball cutter with the ability to finish above the rim with ease off two feet in space. Dynamic lob-catching threat on back-cuts. Reads defenses in elite fashion directly teammates to exploit coverages.

Closeouts: Excels on rip-through drives attacking bent defenses in space.

Post Up: Doesn’t have the frame to carve out space or the fluidity in these situations as a scorer to project with much confidence any self-gravity in the future, but he can certainly pass out of the post (but teams will play him to score).

Passing/Vision: Precision passer who almost always delivers the ball into shooting pockets even on the move. Impressive pinpoint high velocity skips and right-hand overhead looks. Sees the entire floor and is adept hitting the weak side shooter reading rotations. Really moves the ball ahead in transition and makes the extra pass routinely keeping the chain moving. Incredible outlet passer. Can pass teammates open without comprising the defense off the dribble or having to use a screen. UCLA runs a lot of floppy actions that result in easy read corner 3 attempts which could pad stats, but Ball’s vision/passing obviously passes the eye-test.

Decision-Making: Ruthless quick decision-maker who does most of his damage making the simple but correct play without holding the ball. Excels reading the dig man one pass away. Advanced understanding of the game, especially generating shots for teammates in transition. Can read the defense from a stand-still and get teammates open looks with spatial awareness. Recognition IQ surveying advantage situations is unparalleled in this class. Makes insane tip passes to teammates that demonstrate a completely elevated ability to process plays on the move.

Defense/Rebounding:

On Ball: Not quick twitch with initial movement but can slide in space relatively well staying light on his feet, and had positive stints in isolation defense especially this year on Dillon Brooks for example. Lacks the ability with stiffer hips to get into a deep stance and slide explosively, but is an agile enough isolation defender to be a non-liability against non-lightning quick lead guards. Active hands swiping at dribbles. Lays on screens too often at the point of attack and lacks short area quickness to get over the top of screens and stay attached in plus fashion. Has great acceleration once he gets around picks to apply back pressure with length but doesn’t have the strength to impact plays staying on his man’s hip. Plays smaller than his size physicality wise. Played a lot at the point of attack for UCLA’s 3-2 zone, and profiles better off ball at the next level. Can get dislodged with his frame trying to contain dribble penetration, getting knocked off his spots. Doesn’t look to have the chest strength to contain drives effectively at the next level. Reach to contest most players 1-2 as well as a good amount of 3s. Poor defensive tape against USC.

Off Ball: Advanced instincts playing the passing lanes anticipation wise getting deflections. Rare instincts knowing where to be while also generating defensive events such as crash down blocks and dig downs in the post. Rangy off ball with legitimate speed to rotate and closeout. Projects as a plus team defender at the next level with good anticipation and communication skills. Does struggle to stay attached navigating screens off ball on floppy sets and pin-downs (saw this against Washingto with Thybulle), and gets caught at times.

Rebounding: Fantastic guard rebounder who can crash down on the defensive side, high point balls aggressively and immediately grab-and-go. Not overly explosive but quick second-jump on the offensive glass to rebound his own shots especially.

On-Court Intangibles: A+ leadership on-court and was the driving force re-igniting UCLA’s program and instilling a ball-movement culture. 

College Team Context: Played in an ideal setting in UCLA’s ball-movement pass and screening system to optimize his skill-set. Had a dynamic effect on the success of his teammates but the relationship was reciprocal. Had probably the most pristine floor-spacing to operate with in the country, with Alford (43%), Holiday (41.2%), Leaf (46.6%) and Hamilton (36.6%) all legitimate threats from 3. Throw in Thomas Welsh’s knockdown mid-range game and Ball had dynamic perimeter shooting and two pick-and-pop big threats. Holiday and Leaf could also playmake secondarily (and Holiday even primarily), creating an ideal climate offensively.

Flags: Self-Creation Indicators: Low usage,  Low FTr, Low FT% (shooting real?), Low Unassisted Rim Attempts

Stats Profile:

*Percentiles (includes most drafted lead guards since 2003)

Red 0-25%, Yellow 25-75%, Light Green 75%+

40 Minutes Pace Adjusted Lead Guard

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Efficiency

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Usage

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% Assisted at the Rim/Unassisted Rim Attempts Per 40 Minutes

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NBA 3s (Total)

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Translation/How He’ll Win in the NBA: I have a minority opinion on Ball in believing he is actually a high floor prospect instead of one with high bust potential and a tremendous outcome variance. His combination of positional size, transition playmaking, passing intelligence, off-ball defense and spot up shooting confidence with deep range should translate to at least a valuable rotation player. Any team that drafts him has to optimize Ball’s transition gifts first and foremost by pushing the pace and letting Ball siphon off high percentage opportunities for teammates here. In the half-court, Ball is dynamic off-ball via catch-and-shoot deep 3s and headily moving without the ball to locate areas to exploit defenses. Ball can be a valuable transition point guard and half court off-ball player, but realizing a higher ceiling outcome will hinge on his on-ball initiation skills.

Best Team Fit: Lakers Motion Scheme, Philadelphia’s Roster Construction

Ball is an ideal fit in contemporary offensive schemes that favor motion sets where the principles are passing, screening, and generating spot up 3pt shooting opportunities. We’ve already seen him thrive in a similar environment that maximizes his gifts at UCLA, and the Warriors-style system that Luke Walton wants to run in LA looks like it can optimize Ball’s quick decisions, ball movement, and spot up prowess. In the half-court in self-creation settings Russell’s superior handle and pick-and-roll shot creation would compliment Ball’s limitations well, and Ball as a secondary creator in most sets will be an enormous playmaking upgrade over Clarkson.

As far as pure personnel fit, I feel the most comfortable projecting Ball to a team that has legitimate primary talent and a projectable high-level initiator. Philadelphia with Simmons and Embiid would really provide the infrastructure to allow Ball to slide in and do what he does best: amplify the talent surrounding him in a supporting role. But with the recent trade that was struck between Philadelphia and Boston this scenario isn’t worth unpacking any further.

Outcome Range/Player Comparison:

Floor Outcome: Late Career Shaun Livingston With Less Defense, No-Post Game & a Jump Shot (just getting at role and decision-making)

Median Outcome: Ricky Rubio With Less Point of Attack Defense But With a Jump Shot

Ceiling Outcome: I honestly have no fucking idea

Ranking Justification: I’m intrigued with Ball, mostly because I trust his decision-making under pressure especially and we’ve seen the value of elite intelligence at the highest levels of play even via role players like Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston. Ball has the mental foundation that you can’t teach, which gives him potentially a different kind of upside than the typical athleticism + skills route. He also seems like a relatively valuable two-guard at his floor if his shot off the catch translates, given his ace ball-movement and off-ball team defense.

But I have significant reservations about how valuable his role can be if his on-ball self-creation can’t command the gravity of defenses. I think if placed in a primary creation role teams will play him to score instead of to pass. Great creators for others like Steve Nash could combat this via outlier shooting and unpredictable difficult shot-making. I don’t see Ball having that kind of fluidity, and his lack of shake and handle to separate combined with his predictable pull-up shot and tendencies doesn’t bode well for him in this regard.

If he’s a motion-type player and deriving a lot of his value off ball, his value is capped not being an initiator. The best perimeter players of this make in the league are Klay Thompson types who are two-way players and are elite shooters. Thompson specifically is an outstanding on-ball point of attack defender who as we saw in the finals can significantly impact a game even when his shot isn’t falling due to his on-ball defense and shooting gravity off ball (J.R. Smith was often faceguarding him on the weak side in pick and roll, which is insane). Ball isn’t a proficient on-ball point of attack defender and he’s more of a shot-maker than a high profile shooter like Klay.

This is what makes Ball so divisive. There is just no one to really compare him to in the league to approximate value because he’s so different. The sub-elite to elite lead guards can almost all score at a high level, and operate functionally as self-creators in pick-and-roll. The sub-elite to elite off ball perimeter wings are almost all two-way players who provide legitimate on-ball defensive utility (along with off-ball) and can really shoot. Where does Ball fit into this structure?

It’s a reasonable stance to postulate there could be value to Ball that we can’t currently capture with either statistics or league trends. Draymond Green has been cited as a parallel in becoming a superstar role player type that no one expected. But even Draymond evolved into something we already knew carried immense value: big man defense. We just of course didn’t know he would be the catalyst of the league’s transformation into small/skill ball and be one of the most versatile defenders of all time.

It’s difficult to see what avenue Ball takes to reach top 10 player status. NBA defenses will not scheme for him the same way college defenses did in trapping him in pick-and-roll for example and allowing him to facilitate easy 4 on 3s. They’ll likely just switch and make Ball prove he can win in isolation. He wont be able to bend NBA defenses by his sheer presence with the ball like in college without comprising his defender and forcing help. There is something to be said about on-ball self gravity in the NBA, where the best on-ball players are commanding the attention of at least two defenders whenever they have the ball, creating advantage situations for teammates. I don’t see Ball as that kind of self-creator force.

The question is does he need to be or need to have that potential in order to justify taking him this high? I don’t think so. Ball looks like the kind of player you find on winning teams, and with the promising primary initiator equity in this class gone (in my opinion) Ball’s projection to contributing to winning basketball wins out here. He’s neck-and-neck with Smith for #2 in this class for me, and I see arguments for both sides.

4.JONATHAN ISAAC

16 hsum Isaac01

(USA Basketball)

(Range: 4-5)

NBA Position Range: Category 9 Wing: Defensive Versatile -> Category 5 Wing: 3&D Versatile *With Rim Protection -> Category 3 Five Unicorn

Age (At Time of Draft): 19

Potential Blue Chip Skills: Defensive Versatility, Rare 3&D Archetype

Positional Size/Tools/Frame: Great size at 6-foot-11 and solid length via a 7-foot-1 wingspan for an NBA forward. Narrow 205 pound frame and a late bloomer physically. How much can he fill out? More fluid and rangy than explosive due to wiry build.

Shooting:

Spot Up: Fluid mechanics with good preparatory footwork usually catching on the hop ready to shoot with upward motion shooting at the top of his jump. Dips the ball and doesn’t have the fastest release, but size and high release point help to compensate and enables him to shoot over contests. Lacks strength so tends to bend his knees inward. Doesn’t possess consistent NBA 3pt range currently.

Off the Dribble: Underrated fluidity on his pull-up attacking left or right (but especially left) usually in a one-dribble setting. Solid footwork stepping into his shots off the 1-2. Flashes a one dribble mid-range fadeaway game. Not advanced for a wing here but as you push him down positions his fluidity becomes more attractive.

Off Screen/Motion: Rarely ever shot off movement at FSU but flashed the ability to square up quickly moving to his left simulating a relocation setting. Has the size and fluidity to eventually be able to shoot off pin-downs potentially, but right now he’s mostly a stationary shooter off the catch.

Creation:

First Step: Above average first step for a four and has some deception out of triple threat with his jab step right, one-dribble pull-up left that creates separation. Can face up and shoot when he has a size mismatch but lack of burst off a live dribble hinders his iso creation upside.

Handle: Decent handle for his size considering his dribble will be higher at his height (if you consider him a 4) but lacks the burst to consistently separate. Can play off hesitation moves, hang dribbles, crossovers and through the legs step-backs, but almost always results in a pull-up due to lack of juice off a live dribble. Likely a big space handler with struggles against pressure defense when players gets into his body. Can grab and go in big space transition setting, but handle is a bit loose even in space.

Pick-And-Roll: Handled a decent amount in pick-and-roll, but not a natural playmaker here. Predetermined reads without reading the defense resulting in turnovers. Flashes the ability to sink low in pick-and-roll splitting the defense and either hitting the drop-off pass or finishing at the rim.

Closeouts: Long-strider who can get to the rim quickly in straight lines. Not overly explosive but is light on his feet and covers ground quickly. Upside here correlates with gravity as a spot up shooter and how hard defenders have to close out on him.

Driving/Finishing: Gets off the floor with ease but not an overly explosive leaper around the rim. Likes to gather off two to generate better pop in space.  Ball slows him down so rarely gets all the way to the basket, and when he does it’s usually in straight-line closeout situations. Long-strider and can get to the basket on slashes quickly. Capable lob catcher on the move with fluidity and reach but not a gravitational threat there. Average hands.

Cutting: Sets up cuts with hard plant with outside foot and has good timing. Looks to have legitimate IQ here.

Passing/Vision: More of a stationary post entry and extra pass maker at this stage than a passer on the move in a playmaking four sense. Not creative. Feel may be underrated due to flashes in pick-and-roll and overall team role, but currently willingness to pass with some simple vision is his best asset.

Decision-Making: Can catch and hold at times on the perimeter killing momentum and allowing the defense to recover. Makes some brutal passes even from a standstill right to defenders. Doesn’t have the natural feel or anticipation to execute complex quick bang-bang decisions.

Defense/Rebounding:

On Ball: Incredible ability to sink low in his stance and slide fluidly for his size. High effort and light on his feet and has some quick-twitch reactionary athleticism changing directions mirroring the offensive player’s first step. Played at the head of FSU’s press showcasing versatility. Active hands swiping at dribbles. Best at switching and containing in space but has the ability to navigate picks and enough speed and length to chase off ball. Has the size and reach to contest on switches. Potential to switch most matchups 2-4 as well as some 1s and 5s in a pinch, the latter in small ball lineups

Off Ball: Will fight to deny the ball and shows toughness and physicality for his slightness of frame. Plays bigger than his size in being wiling to mix it up down low, boding well for his ability to play down positions. Plays with active feet off ball. Rangiest off ball big defender in the class (very close with Jordan Bell) who can cover ground quickly. Excellent weak side rim protection instincts, as well as the verticality to protect at times from a stand-still. Gets run through with his frame in the latter situations but with strength acquisition has the skill base to play the five. Off ball awareness is largely pretty solid, but the Xavier game especially showed he is prone to lapses (overhelped, got beat backdoor). Changes directions in stop/start fashion on closeouts incredibly well for his size. Already has more advanced concepts like stunting and recovering in his arsenal.

Rebounding: High motor rebounder on both ends. Quick second jump. Will high point defensive rebounds crashing down. Makes a consistent effort to box out even though he can get thrown around by college front-lines at times. Fast to the ball on the offensive glass.

On-Court Intangibles: Not an alpha presence on the court without much demonstrative body language. Looks like a quiet blue-collar worker who is willing to do the small things in superstar role player type fashion.

College Team Context: Isaac played a very limited offensive creation role at Florida State surrounded by high usage self-creating guards Dwayne Bacon (29.4 usage rate) and Xavier Rathan-Mayes (20.4 usage rate).

Yellow Flags: Self creation/potential mischaracterization of role, assertiveness/confidence, 3pt% real?

Stats Profile:

*Percentiles (includes most DX “SFs” drafted since 2003, not just groupings):

Red 0-25%, Yellow 25-75%, Light Green 75%+

40 Minutes Pace Adjusted Lead Guard

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Efficiency

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Usage

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Translation/How He’ll Win in the NBA: In a league where positional versatility and switching reigns supreme defensively, Isaac is tailor-made for the modern landscape. His rangy defense is projectable at the four spot where he can play in space guarding pick and rolls, switch onto smalls and also protect the rim from the weak side. You want him at the four to maximize that last attribute, as Isaac profiles incredibly well in a chaos creator role. It might be unrealistic at this juncture to project that he adds enough strength to be able to anchor eventually at the five, but he has the physicality and tools to do so in small-ball lineups especially at higher levels of play when the league downsizes.

Isaac’s offensive success in the league is largely tied to his 3pt shot development. He has some hidden skill for a four, with the ability to handle fluidly and make the extra pass. But he does not look to be a dynamic self-creator, especially if he mans a majority of minutes at the three. His skill-set becomes more alluring as you push him down positions, but it’s unreasonable to expect primary scorer type upside with how much his handle especially slows him down. Still, there are not many, if any, current NBA players who have Isaac’s precise combination of skills, and he’s going to make a lot of money in the league on the defensive side of the ball.

Best Team Fit: Minnesota Timberwolves, Denver Nuggets

One of the best player-team fits in the entire draft is Isaac on the Nuggets to man the four position. Isaac’s rangy versatility as a dynamic off-ball space defender and weak side rim protection would fit ideally next to Nikola Jokic and compensate for some of his weaknesses defensively. With how much Denver inverts their offense with Jokic as a pseudo-initiator from the middle of the court Isaac’s off ball cutting and potential 3pt shooting would be optimized in that scheme. Unfortunately of course Denver at #13 is out of Isaac’s range, and this pairing would require a trade up. The Nuggets have a treasure trove of potential players and picks to include in such a deal if they choose.

The best most realistic fit is at #7 to Minnesota, where Isaac would fill a similar role next to Karl Towns, permitting the latter to slide back to his natural position defending fives instead of chasing fours around. The Wolves have two non-defenders in Wiggins and LaVine on the wings, and could really use Isaac’s versatile defense to cover up for deficiencies there.

Outcome Range/Player Comparison:

Floor Outcome: Iteration Aminu Who Can Dribble (likely > shooter)

Median Outcome: Rim Protecting Robert Covington

Ceiling Outcome: Poor Man’s Andrei Kirlilenko (Sans Feel/Athleticism)

Ranking Justification: Similar to Ball, it’s Isaac’s high floor that projects to impact winning basketball that’s his main allure. His defensive ceiling however is considerable, and his skill-set is a rare commodity. The league is starved of legit 3&D wings, and Isaac has the baseline to be one of the best in basketball while also providing rim protection, a combination not often found.

Typically you don’t see “wings” who doesn’t project to be dynamic scorers go this high, but Isaac’s fit in the modern game defensively can’t be ignored. His size and quick feet combination is reminiscent of Dragan Bender last year, save for Isaac might be a better bet to shoot. He lacks Bender’s passing intellect and BBIQ, but any versatile big who is a two-level defender who can also potentially serve as a spacing threat on offense in the modern game is insanely valuable. Isaac has considerable upside on a winning team, and for me is well deserving of the #4 slot

5.MALIK MONK

(Range: 4-5)

NBA Position Range: Category 8 Wing Offensive/Scoring Secondary Handler -> HYBRID Category 8 Wing/Category 12 Wing 1 Position Defender 1 Skill Shooter -> Category 3 Lead Guard Offensive Scheme-Changer

Age (At Time of Draft): 19

Potential Blue Chip Skills: Off-Screen Gravitational Shooting, Pull-Up Shooting

Positional Size/Tools/Frame: Below average size and tools for a wing at 6-foot-3 with a 6-foot-4 wingspan, and average for a lead guard if he indeed morphs into that position over time. A narrower build at 197 pounds but looks to have relatively wide shoulders that renders it possible he adds some impactful strength. Right now a shooting guard in a point guards body.

Shooting:

Spot Up: Deep range and ultra confident. Lightening quick and fluid release that is even further expedited by shot preparation. Makes clutch shots in big moments. Shows great spatial awareness to relocate and keep the floor spaced. Can catch off the hop going left or right fluidly. Also uses the 1-2 to step into 3s in early offense/transition.

Off the Dribble: High release point with plus elevation helps compensate for lack of ideal height. Can create space in a variety of ways, especially on step-backs. Can rise up on a dime on hang-dribbles with either the left or the right. Uses shot-fake to get to his one dribble pull-up fluidly. One of the best contested shot-makers for his size to come around in a long time.

Off Screen/Motion: Incredibly advanced for his age knowing how to set up and use screens. Will change speeds and directions setting up defenders on floppy sets. Rubs off bigs consistently. Ability to sprint and square up quickly in one fluid motion on the hop with a quick release. Can be used on flares, pin-down curls and floppy sets.

Creation:

First Step: Elite first step out of triple threat. Has the juice off a live dribble as well to blow past guys. The threat of his shot will open up his floor game and that starts with his initial explosive first step.

Handle: A bit loose and high handle. Struggles with pressure defense getting into his body. Has some dribble moves like an in-and-out in space and a relatively quick crossover. Has a decent hang dribble crossover but not a ton of deception or shake in iso situations outside of big space transition opportunities.

Pick-And-Roll: Hard to assess given surrounding circumstance at Kentucky. Consistently having to dribble into digs off Fox and Briscoe, and getting hard-hedged/trapped when Gabriel is the roll man. Defenses have to chase him over the top with dynamic off-the-dribble shooting game and range. Can reject and execute drop-off looks.  Accurate lobs in Bam with good touch. Promising ability to hit the dive man either on over and drop coverages attacking or on quick-hitting slips. Shows the ability to drive and make skip passes on the move, as well as hook pass over the top. Late recognition of the weak side shooter at times. Settles too often on switches, but not a lot of space to operate.

Finishing/Driving: Explosive athlete in space off one or two feet with dynamic straight-line speed. When he slashes, prefers to gather off two. Plus burst in straight lines often using a shot fake to blow by, but settles at times instead of trying to turn the corner. Has touch with his left on crafty shots at high speeds. Limited by his frame carving out space on drives and finishing through contact. Gets pushed off his spots easily. Doesn’t have elite contortion ability but has some hang in the air adjustment craft and soft touch at higher speeds. Flashes up-and-under ability to use the rim to shield attempts. Soft touch of runners with either hand. Can do a better job reading the dig defender one pass away on the move.Average length extension at the rim

Cutting: Legitimate lob threat of back-screens. Shows awareness to set defender up and break backdoor with good timing.

Closeouts: Dynamic first step paired with threat of shot plus quick rip-throughs creates an advanced combination. Can attack both left and right. Can be more aggressive getting all the way to the basket.

Passing/Vision: Not an overly creative passer lacking plus vision. Makes simple reads at times especially in pick-and-roll, but isn’t the most willing passer. A fair amount of reads seem premeditated (see Florida game with Fox out). Flashed enough in a very specified role at Kentucky to suggest secondary playmaking for others is obtainable, both in the half-court and especially in transition. Could potentially run a spread pick-and-roll system at the lead guard down the road.

Decision-Making: Forces contested shots instead of making the easy pass for a higher percentage shot to teammates he in his line of vision. Excels for the most part taking care of the ball, although he had 11 turnovers in the two games against Florida and Georgia that Fox missed. Does show a proclivity to immediately move the ball when he decides to pass instead of holding.

Defense/Rebounding:

On Ball: Effort exceeds technique on defense. Flashes the ability to sink down and slide laterally in space getting into guys. Flashes footwork to get over picks effectively planting outside foot and chasing. Doesn’t have the strength or length to apply effective back pressure recovering to the handler’s hip. Bad technique reaching in at times and doesn’t always stay attached to finish plays. Doesn’t have a quick reactionary first step in his stance. Poor positioning too frequently at the point of attack not having the angle to contain. Tries to chase over and contest. Prone to getting blown by on screen rejections. Too upright at times resulting in easy blow-bys. Opens up way too early beyond the 3pt line instead of sliding to contain. Doesn’t have natural instincts or IQ here, but has the malleable athleticism where you can’t rule out some improvement.

Off Ball: Top-shelf range with elite speed recovering to contest on the perimeter despite lack of size and length. Shows ability to stay attached chasing off ball around pin-downs. Poor positioning in terms of angles on closeouts. Not an opportunistic event generator and ball watches too often. Loses shooters on relocations falling asleep. Doesn’t have the reach to contest most all wings and even most taller lead guards, and he isn’t a switching threat against more than 2 positions (and not even 2 at times).

On-Court Intangibles: Positive body language and seemed to take Calipari’s tutelage well.

College Team Context: Kentucky afforded Monk one of the worst spacing environments in college basketball. Consistently dealing with dig downs off two perimeter non-shooters in De’Aaron Fox and Isaiah Briscoe, Monk also had to battle traps out of pick-and-rolls when Wenyen Gabriel was the screener, and when you add Bam Adebayo as the five the floor was completely shrunk. Derrick Willis’ insertion at the four gave Monk at least one credible spacing threat, but the spacing dynamic might have explained some of Monk’s lack of driving volume (it was noticeable on film even though Monk did settle a lot in predetermined fashion). Fox and Briscoe were also utilized as distinct primary and secondary handlers, relegating Monk into basically on off-ball running off screen role, and from flashes there might be more on-ball creation upside here.

Flags: Defense (steals, blocks, rebounds)

Stats Profile:

*Percentiles (includes most DX “SGs” since 2003, not just groupings):

Red 0-25%, Yellow 25-75%, Light Green 75%+

40 Minutes Pace Adjusted Lead Guard

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Efficiency

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Usage

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Off Screen Playtype (Wing Freshman Since 2007 Sorted By Poss. Inclusive)

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Pull-Up Jump Shots Half-Court (All Wings Min. 100 Poss. Sorted by PPP Inclusive)

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Guarded Half-Court Catch and Shoot Playtype

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NBA 3s (Total)

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Translation/How He’ll Win in the NBA: Monk’s advanced off-ball shooting and scoring instincts provide him with a projectable floor entering the league as a gravitational off-screen presence. He might not ever be the kind of shooter that Redick or Korver types are (historically good of course), but he showed enough established shot diversity at Kentucky to render that outcome foreseeable. Monk is ideally used on floppy sets with his ability to both sprint off screens in any direction to square up quickly for threes and his ability to back-cut for lobs when defenders shoot gaps over-aggressively. He reads screens incredibly well, and didn’t get enough credit for his intellect here at Kentucky.

What sets him apart from Korver/Redick types is his ability to still win in isolation when defenses switch (especially wing-to-wing). The league has gotten more switch happy to mitigate these screening actions, and players who can’t separate if neutralized off the catch (Korver for example) can be mitigated, especially in the playoffs when teams downsize. Monk has enough of a live dribble game and the explosive first step to blow by guys on switches and get to his pull-up game. He has a rare option B that a lot of shooters who can’t separate off the dribble don’t have.

Monk’s value in being a gravitational presence on the court isn’t really captured by most statistics, but having to account for him on the floor at all times carries plus value in the modern game. Monk relocates and finds cracks in the defenses, possessing a strong knack for this off-ball. The degree of shooting efficiency is a question, but he’s an established and diverse shooter as his floor who can shot-make in versatile ways. How high his ceiling mostly revolves around refining his handle.

Best Team Fit: Philadelphia 76ers, New York Knicks

Monk would be a tremendous fit with the Sixers as an off-ball compliment to Simmons much the same way Ball would hypothetically be (save for likely better shooting but less secondary playmaking). This setting would likely maximize Monk’s floor as a shooter.

New York is the other fit that looks most conducive to Monk’s game, but even more so to his potential ceiling. I’m not one to factor in “Triangle fit” when the Knicks select at #8 (if they do), as New York should just select the best talent available. But Monk would conceptually be a great short-term fit in that system as the “primary handler”, easing him into pseudo-lead guard handling duties and allowing him to develop some initiation skills to test his ceiling in this capacity. He’d predominately be playing off ball in the half-court, but selectively he has a very capable pick-and-roll partner in Porzingis when Hornacek chooses to run these sets. The situation would serve as a nice incubator for Monk’s future as a lead guard. If he doesn’t show promise, he has nice fall-back ability at the 2 long-term, and if the Knicks ever do-away with the triangle they will have the assessment needed to draft or obtain a lead guard accordingly.

Outcome Range/Player Comparison:

Floor Outcome: Iteration of Zach LaVine

Median Outcome: Inferior Defensive Bradley Beal (lacking that functional strength)

Ceiling Outcome: Shorter Ray Allen OR Damian Lillard 

Ranking Justification: If you follow this site or my draft analysis in any capacity, you’re probably surprised at this ranking. I tend to favor two-way perimeter players who are adept passers in a team construct for those who don’t project as legitimate initiators, and tend to fade one-way one-skill shooters. I didn’t like Jamal Murray (looks like I underrated his playmaking here, even though I stand by hating his college tape) or Buddy Hield at all last year, and I was incredibly skeptical of Monk a good way through this season.

But watching his tape back I think he’s a special shooter and shot-maker, with advanced off-ball instincts. His dynamism shooting off the dribble, over contests, sprinting off screens and relocating off ball on spot ups looks real. He’s much more athletic than Murray and Hield types in terms of speed, burst, first step suddenness and vertical explosion, and his ability to separate both on and off ball is potentially sub-elite for his archetype. I also think there is more in the toolbox there in terms of potential secondary creation at worst, with an ounce of primary equity obtainable. Calipari is famous for putting his players in specific roles (point guards dominate the ball, shooting guards usually don’t). We’ve seen this over time with guys like Booker. Monk was placed in a specified role that I don’t think fully captured his overall skill-set. There is more there than what he was able to show, and reflected in the flashes he displayed if you watched him intently.

The defense is definitely a concern, and you’re essentially hoping he evolves into a non-liability there and his average size holds up against schemed for direct head-hunting attacks in the playoffs by bigger wings. His ideal defensive position is defending the point of attack with his lackluster size and tools, but he really struggled there at Kentucky. He needs to be paired with a very specific kind of player in the back-court to optimize his abilities and mitigate his weaknesses.

I’m a little weary of betting on a historical streak-shooter from 3 especially pre-college, but he’s always been adept from the foul line and his shooting tape at Kentucky passes the eye-test with flying colors. Potential two-way wings like Jackson and Tatum will go ahead of Monk in the draft, and while I don’t think Monk deserves to be in a tier ahead of them Monk has the translatable skill that neither possesses. This presents a legitimate draft philosophy question: do you roll with the more balanced all-around wing types hoping that one skill becomes elite but who need a lot to go right for them (more than what popular consensus believes) or do you side with the player who already has a translatable plus skill that could easily be elite at the NBA level? I think Monk has Ray Allen low percentage ceiling outcome equity, especially due to his off the dribble shooting which I value highly. You wish he was 3 inches taller with a more established frame, but in a solid yet flawed class I’ll roll the dice on the ++ skill.

6. JOSH JACKSON

(Range: 6-7)

NBA Position Range: Category 7 Two-Way Secondary Handler -> Category 3 Two-Way Swiss Army Knife Playmaker

Age (At Time of Draft): 20

Potential Blue Chip Skills: Sub-elite Defense?

Positional Size/Tools/Frame: Great size for a wing at 6’8”. Unimpressive 6’10” wingspan that limits reach contest ability on the perimeter on 3s. Slender frame at 207 pounds albeit with some wiry strength. Doesn’t look capable of adding difference-making strength.

Shooting:

Spot Up: Two-motion low release with elbow out. Lacks fluidity. Flat arc from distance that calls into question the ability to make NBA 3s above the break. Made mechanical and footwork improvements as the year progressed with less of a hitch motion and catching more in rhythm on the hop.

Off the Dribble: Brings the ball out in front of his body on the way up. Turns in midair after he sets to jump instead of in the shot-preparation stage on the catch. Has the handle and footwork usually off the 1-2 to get to his pull-up, especially with defenders sagging off. Flashed step-back ability against Michigan State and Miles Bridges. Mechanics and shot process lacks fluidity, but he’s a capable shot-maker.

Off Screen/Motion: Not a threat at this juncture to sprint off screens and square up to the basket effectively. Has the size to eventually be used on pin-downs but needs to refine shot preparation fluidity due to out-and-up lower release.

Creation:

First Step: Not a deceptive or explosive first step out of triple threat. Not much kick in live dribble situations either especially with defenders playing off due to lack of a pull-up threat. Couldn’t get by NBA athletes like Miles Bridges from triple-threat, instead settling for step-backs.

Handle: Handle consists of mostly basic crossovers or hesitation-crossovers at this stage but has a relatively tight handle for his size and can get low at times changing directions. Is capable handling with his left in space. Over-reliant on spin moves once he can’t turn the corner. Dribble can get too far out in front of him at times. Has a workable in-and-out dribble but not a lot of deception or shake there. Beat a lot of fours and fives in big spaces (ex: Jarrett Allen, Humphries) where he was able to build up a head of steam. Not an especially sudden athlete changing directions creating space. Dynamic grab and go big space handling playmaking threat in transition with vision on the move.

Pick-And-Roll: Can he run pick-and-roll against a set defense? Forces passes into traffic cross-court that aren’t there. Can make skips on the move and flashes ability to read the tag defender and make precision lob passes off motion. Has to read the dig defender better one pass away. Used at times as the screener as a four to get him into space and again negate lack of a first step (ex: Kentucky).

Finishing/Drives: Explosive above the rim off one or two in space. Will dunk over and through bodies at the rim. Legitimate coordination and explosion as a lob catching threat. Aggressive and fearless finisher. Kansas ran a lot of weave actions or hand-offs to get him in space on the move with a head of steam. Soft touch with either hand around the rim, but does miss a fair amount of bunnies. Strong enough to finish through contact moving at full speed, but still struggles at times finishing in traffic over length. Has the body control to finish up-and-unders. Not a side-stepper around the basket and can get sped up resulting in charges. Compensates for lack of length extension with bounce and touch.

Closeouts: When defenders close out hard he has a plus first step attacking that momentum. Worry that NBA teams will close out short on him and negate that needed advantage.

Post: Flashes some mid-post turnaround ability, and has the size to exploit mismatches here against smaller guards with the ability to shoot and pass over the top.

Cutting: Good recognition skills of time and space to cut. Explosive above the rim finisher with a fantastic lob catch radius for a wing.

Passing/Vision: Can pass one-handed with either hand at high velocity into tight spaces, and passes over the top. Impressive reads making drop-offs on the move. On target passes, especially on post entries. Rare ability for a wing to pass on the move. Advances the ball up in transition. Instinctual ball-mover who can make bang-bang instinctual reads in the moment. Comfortable flashing to the high post and quickly being able to see the court, utilizing touch passes.

Decision-Making: How much of his game is instincts versus actual smarts? Can get sped up having to make decisions on the move attacking the basket. Picks up careless fouls.

Defense/Rebounding:

On Ball: High effort and competitive defender. Has some twitchiness changing directions. Can sink and slide laterally explosively, especially after the first initial movement. Lacks the reach to impactfully challenge shots on the perimeter. Technique reaching in and allowing middle on drives has to improve. Fast hands but will hop out to reach and get blown by. Instincts are to try and swipe for steals instead of containing. Narrow build impacts his ability to wall off penetration without getting dislodged by stronger players (Burton, Iwundu). Reactionary athleticism defending initial move out of triple threat is solid, but not elite. Positioning also varies. Shows the agility and footwork to navigate picks effectively. Usually in a stance but can play too upright at times.

Off Ball: Rangy and covers a lot of ground on rotations on the weak side. Changes directions well north/south on closeouts, but lunges instead of showing choppy steps too often. Usually solid at tagging the roll man and recovery to his man on the weak side. Active in passing lanes anticipating passes for steals. Advanced recognition skills for blowing up actions (pick-and-roll especially) rotating over to disrupt angles and taking charges. Shows timely processing of plays on dig downs. Helps one pass away to often and crashes down off shooters to the post inexplicably. Prone to ball-watching and trying to hunt events instead of playing disciplined contain defense.

Rebounding: Quick reactionary second jump on the offensive glass, and is almost always first to the ball there. Instinctive offensive rebounder who can high point and finish in one-motion above the rim. Active boxing out despite frame and is willing to mix it up down low.

On-Court Intangibles: Hyper-competitive and looks engaged consistently playing with an intense edge. Gets visibly frustrated at times at officials and makes frustration careless fouls.

College Team Context: Jackson played the four surrounded by legitimate floor-spacing with four rotation perimeter players all shooting over 37% from 3 and both a legit primary creator (Frank Mason) and very capable secondary creator (Devonte’ Graham), creating one of the best offensive climates for any prospect in the draft. Perhaps Jackson’s creation role took a hit playing next to Mason’s high usage especially, but he had pristine spacing to operate with most of the time attacking less athletic college fours in space and got enough opportunities to reasonably showcase his skill-set. Defensively, Kansas didn’t have a true rim-protector with ground-bound Landen Lucas manning the five, putting more schematic strain on Jackson to roam and crash down on drives around the basket that could have branded him with more of a gambler stigma than he would have garnered in a more conservative scheme.

Flags: Trap door shooting (56.6% from the line, 37.8% from 3), Shooting Fluidity Overall, *Off-Court Legal Status

Stats Profile:

*Percentiles (includes most drafted “DX Database Threes” Since 2003, not just groupings):

Red 0-25%, Yellow 25-75%, Light Green 75%+

40 Minutes Pace Adjusted Lead Guard

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Efficiency

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Usage

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Translation/How He’ll Win in the NBA: Jackson was probably my favorite high-level college prospect to watch last season because of his two-way play, instincts and competitiveness. But going back over his tape after the season I started asking myself this very question: what does he do that translates to the next level in plus fashion if he can’t shoot?

Jackson is a dynamic transition player armed with the multi-faceted ability to fill the lanes with plus speed and dynamic explosiveness in space, as well as the ability to grab-and-go starting the break with the ability to handle in space and playmake. He can be a legitimate asset offensively in transition.

I trust his handling ability in a secondary role offensively, as well as his vision and instincts to keep the chain moving, run a secondary pick-and-roll and attack bent defenses in straight lines with veracity speeding towards the rim. He’s also a good bet to defend in plus fashion given his size, lateral agility, high-motor and switchiness.

But I struggle to see he he impacts the game as a considerable plus in half-court if he can’t shoot or score, being as though he lacks the handle and shake to be a primary initiator. He is frankly a bad bet to shoot, especially off the dribble in situations from behind the arc or on mid-post face-ups where scoring wings often times generate offense.

Right now he’s the jack of all trades (except for shooting) and the master of none. He’s projectable as a secondary playmaker and versatile defender, but those types either have to shoot well and defend in reasonable fashion or shoot reasonably well and defend in elite fashion. I don’t see either outcome as likely for Jackson.

Best Team Fit: Conceptually Phoenix, Elements of LA’s Motion Scheme

The idea of Phoenix’s roster construction if Devin Booker, Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss reach once lauded shooting expectations probably affords Jackson the best spacing climate to succeed. Teams are going to have to play Jackson on-ball a fair amount to capitalize on his playmaking and lack of gravitational pull on the perimeter.

Jackson is best with a head of steam, especially running into dribble-hand-off scenarios which mitigates his lack of first step. A motion scheme setup is probably best to get Jackson on the move and really capitalize on his cutting ability. Phoenix could instill that kind of system as they desperately need more ball movement, and the Lakers already have Warriors principles in place (although Jackson isn’t an off screen shooting threat).

Outcome Range/Player Comparison:

Floor Outcome: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist who can dribble and pass

Median Outcome: Variation of Oladipo on offense + Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on Defense

Ceiling Outcome: Iteration of Iguodala/Howard Combination on Offense (Sub-Elite Non-Iguodala Defense)

Ranking Justification: Jackson is the best two-way true wing bet in the draft (if you designate Isaac a 4), as he already has advanced feel and playmaking for others prowess not often found in players with his athleticism. There is a lot to work with as a foundation, and Jackson has that blue-collar motor and edge on the court.

But the reality that Jackson reaches this legitimate two-way status is bleaker than most consensus mock drafts and big boards suggest. If Jackson was a generationally elite defender that would be one thing. As is the case often, Ben Rubin got to this realization early, but going back over Jackson’s tape it’s evident he is probably not going to be a truly elite stopper (or even team defender). He lacks the elite length, strong core strength/build foundation and elite reactionary first step to be an Andre Iguodala type, and to take him in the top 5 (or especially top 3) he needs to have avenues to be that guy given his offensive shortcomings. He’s likely going to be a plus wing defender in the league who also provides playmaking, a combination not easily found. But the question is how much will that matter?

Jackson just lacks the first step and off the dribble shooting fluidity to be a primary wing scorer, especially when defenders are playing a foot and a half more off him to incentive his pull-up shot. He’s also not a surefire average spacing threat off ball, especially above the break who will demand gravity. Jackson is a fantastic cutter and can eat up space off the dribble in big spaces if he’s left unguarded (unlike a Tony Allen type), but that kind of player has a distinct offensive ceiling.

It’s entirely possible that Jackson develops a workable corner 3 in time and become a sub-league average 3pt shooter. I just don’t consider those odds that likely. If Jackson had more dynamism first step wise or in terms of shake, or on the other side of the court profiled as an elite defender (either Isaac off-ball or Anunoby on-ball) my thought process would differ. Jackson would be a hell of a playmaking four if he had a sturdier frame, could anchor on the glass and was longer. But he doesn’t/isn’t.

I still like his two-way upside a nudge more in a vacuum than Tatum, even though the latter is a better bet to both shoot and play the four. I can again see the arguments for both sides.

7.JAYSON TATUM

16 hsumTatum01

(USA Basketball)

(Range: 6-7)

NBA Position Range: Category 10 Wing Offensive Skilled Combo-Forward -> Category 3 Wing Two Way Swiss-Army Knife Playmaker

Age (At Time of Draft): 19

Potential Blue Chip Skills: Sub-elite Isolation Shot Creation?

Positional Size/Tools/Frame: Prototype size at 6’8″ and length 6’11” wingspan for an NBA wing with an advanced frame in the upper-body strength wise with wide shoulders. Narrower hips and a less developed lower body strength wise. Can he add any explosiveness without extra strength weighing him down?

Shooting:

Spot Up: Mechanics and shot process are rigid, especially in the lower body. Two-motion release that looks mechanical. Slower release time. Don’t watch him shoot and think it’s effortless. Impeccable footwork fluidly catching in rhythm off the hop and has solid rotation and follow-through. Has the strength to extend range but lacks fluidity.

Off the Dribble: Outstanding footwork for his age. Can get to his pull-up via a step-back dribble at will, and profiles as a difficult shot-maker. High release allows him to dislodge defenders and create air-space pulling up. Best in mid-post area on face-ups out of triple threat with use of jabs. Not a range threat shooting off the dribble currently.

Off Screen/Motion: Sets his feet quickly on pick-and-pops catching on the hop. Didn’t show a lot of off-screen shot-making ability but flashed the ability to set his feet off a flare screen and square up on a floppy set. Advanced preparatory footwork should aid him here moving forward. Has legitimate upside shooting off pin-downs in time

Creation:

First Step: Deceptive first step out of triple threat due to the threat of his shot and use of jab steps. Has the short area quickness going sideways or backwards to generate space. Best in situations where he can quickly rip through and go or jab step to get to his pull-up. Not overly explosive off of a live dribble and doesn’t blow by college athletes enough in these settings.

Handle: Can play off hang dribbles, hesitations and crossovers to get to his shot, but needs the threat of a pull-up to get defenders to press up. Has enough handle to win in big space situations such as isolation settings or in transition, but lacks the ability to sink down low with the ball and navigate narrow confines. Will likely struggles when more agile wings press up and get into his body in face up situations as his dribble is a bit high.

Pick-And-Roll: More of a mid-post scorer than a pick-and-roll threat due to lack of a plus handle, shiftiness and his pull-up shot not currently extending to range. Does he have the burst to turn the corner and the vision to excel here?

Post Up: Incredibly polished post scorer operating in the mid-post area. Strong and skilled enough to win against wings inside. Posts on either the right or left block, with the ability to shoot over either shoulder. Advanced footwork and use of spin moves to create separation with some shake. Has a one-footed fadeaway that when paired with his height and high release point is difficult for wings to guard. Uses a shoulder dip to create space, and has good instincts as far as feeling out where the defender is bodying him and spinning off him accordingly. Hasn’t shown consistency passing out of these settings but has enough vision to make simple reads here.

Driving/Finishing: Lacks burst and explosion off of a live dribble, but is a long-strider who can cover ground relatively quickly for his size. Not a bouncy vertical athlete around the basket, relying on strength to dislodge and the length extension to finish, but can finish above the rim off one or two in space. Average leaper in traffic without advanced ambidexterity or the body control to adjust in air consistently, but flashes some adjustment ability to contort around length.Too often has to resort to floaters due to a lack of ability to explode over the top or get the corner.  Poor finishing tape against UNC.

Passing/Vision: Doesn’t have advanced vision passing on the move but flashes just enough on drop-offs and some skips to have creation for others intrigue. Not an anticipatory passer. Has the size to survey the court and pass over the top. Great ball-movement tape in the first half of 2/9 matchup against UNC.

Decision-Making: How well can he read defenses on the move? Prone to catching and holding without keeping the chain moving. Not the black hole his reputation suggests but can pick his spots to create more efficiently. Forces shots too often with open teammates in his line of sight.

Defense/Rebounding:

On Ball: Active hands on ball and is mobile enough to not be a liability. Tries in space, (especially on hard-hedges) and Duke switched a lot which afforded him opportunities to showcase his versatility. Stiff in the hips which impacts his short-area quickness and ability to really sink down and slide explosively (you see this manifest against NBA caliber athletes like Theo Pinson, even Berry). Not a plus reactionary athlete mirroring the ball-handlers initial move, and long-strides limit his short-area quickness. Developed upper body but lacks the lower body girth to anchor against bigger frontcourt players in the post and on the glass. Not the most physical interior defender who offers much resistance in the post which also impacts his ceiling in being able to play the four. Allows easy post entry position to college fours like Maye and Wilkins.

Off Ball: Doesn’t change directions well in stop/start closeout situations. Covers ground fluidly and can serve as a weak side event generator with anticipation instincts for blocks, and excelled on rim contests. Inconsistent team defender who is often times late recognition wise tagging the roll man and rotating over from the weak side.

Rebounding: Gets moved around by bigger college fours but at least tries to box out and grab contested rebounds. Lacks the vertical athleticism and instincts to be dynamic here.

On-Court Intangibles:

College Team Context: Tatum benefited from a similar ecosystem as Jackson playing the college four for the most part offensively surrounded by spacing threats in Kennard (43.8% from 3), Allen (36.5% from 3) and Frank Jackson (39.5% from 3). Tatum thus routinely matched up with less athletic fours, and had the benefit of a quickness advantage. It should be noted that none of those 3 perimeter players are full-fledged creating for others point guards, instead combo-iterations who thrive getting their own offense first, thus Tatum didn’t reap the benefits of getting the ball in optimal fashion in his spots. But it was still damn close to an ideal setting, as especially Kennard and Allen are very capable playmakers who demand gravitational credibility off-ball. Playing the four defensively next to either Amile Jefferson, Marques Bolden or Harry Giles at the five, Tatum had access to some weak side rim protection opportunities and back-line rotation work that we can glean takeaways from translating to the next level. Duke’s pick-and-roll defense especially was an unmitigated disaster all around, and while Tatum wasn’t the culprit for a lot of this deficiency, it’s hard to make the case he had a counter-impact here.

Flags: Efficiency for his archetype

Stats Profile:

*Percentiles (includes most drafted “DX Database Threes” Since 2003, not just groupings):

Red 0-25%, Yellow 25-75%, Light Green 75%+

40 Minutes Pace Adjusted Lead Guard

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Efficiency

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Usage

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Isolation Playtype (Wings Since 2007 Min. 100 Poss. Sorted By PPP)

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Translation/How He’ll Win in the NBA: Tatum’s optimal role at the next level looks to be at the four spot offensively, where he can use his devastating footwork and jab-step combination to create space against less mobile traditional fours especially in the regular season operating either 3pt line extended (see below) or more likely as a secondary action option in the mid-post , as well as being a post up threat against smaller wings or guards in the playoffs on switches in that same capacity. His ability to generate offense in isolation especially in these settings is by no means a surefire bet to be efficient, but he at least has the workable skill to develop here.

As is the case with like 95% of perimeter players, Tatum reaching his ceiling outcome will be contingent on his outside shooting, both in terms of self-creation off the dribble and playing within a team construct as a spot up threat. The threat of his shot is especially important for Tatum, who lacks dynamic burst off the dribble and the advanced handle to separate against more agile wings. No team is going to funnel offense through him in the mid-post as a primary offensive recourse like he saw at Duke, so being a spacing threat off ball is imperative.

It’s unclear what position Tatum defends at the next level however. He lacks the lower body girth and physicality to hold position against bigger front court players inside, and while he showed anticipation and instincts as a back-line weak side rim protector at Duke, I’m not sure that translates effectively to the next level with his lack of length and vertical pop. He’s still better suited there than defending consistently in space on the perimeter, especially against primary wing scorers where his lack of reactionary first step and ability to dip low in his stance will impair him.

Tatum profiles ideally as a skill-ball four who is big enough not to be a head-hunting liability on defense. His handle and playmaking for others aren’t advanced enough at this stage to project impactful secondary creation, but his ancillary skills are stronger than he’s given credit for. With Tatum it’s all about the degree of efficiency he’ll reach, as he currently has a decent array of skills but not one to hang his hat on.

Best Team Fit: Indiana Pacers

Tatum’s ideal fit is tricky. He’d be optimized playing next to unicorn types like Porzingis and Turner offensively from a spacing perspective, but neither of those two are strong enough rebounders yet to hold down the interior. I think Turner especially could get there, and his range as a shot-blocker and likely drop pick-and-roll coverage shutting off the paint would aid Tatum tremendously inside. The Pacers are obviously not in position to select Tatum, and if they indeed do move Paul George I wouldn’t select Tatum as high as the potential return would be (#3 pick for example). But pure fit wise this pairing intrigues me (but they’d need to gang rebound).

Conceptually Tatum fits almost anywhere if you believe in his ability to generate offense from a wing position, but I’m more skeptical.

Outcome Range/Player Comparison:

Floor Outcome: More Skilled Iteration of Tobias Harris (shot variance)

Median Outcome: Rich Man’s Offensive Harrison Barnes (shot variance) Without the Defensive Four Capability

Ceiling Outcome: Iteration of Poor Man’s Scoring Carmelo Anthony With Better Passing

Ranking Justification: The questions with Tatum swarm almost entirely around *degree* of the efficiency of his shot-making prowess. He’s a weird prospect, occupying space in the gray area between a Tobias Harris/Harrison Barnes type and Carmelo Anthony. Basically, he’s more polished, especially in terms of footwork, and has better ancillary skills than the two former players (passing, awareness), but doesn’t profile as efficient enough of an on-ball shot-making dynamo to be in Anthony’s class. That reality really seeps out on film. If you go back and watch primary wing scorers like Anthony shoot at Syracuse, his on-ball fluidity in terms of smooth one-motion release rising off the dribble especially (as well as better first step, better hip flexibility and an ounce more explosion, which all add up) laps Tatum’s. The great wing scorers usually jump off the screen in terms of effortlessness. Tatum doesn’t give off that vibe, and he doesn’t have the stats to buttress his unconvincing film.

Now, does Tatum have to be Anthony to have value in the league? Of course not. But for his archetype if he’s not scoring the ball with high volume plus efficiency, what is he contributing elsewhere in plus fashion to the extent he merits a top 5 draft pick? He checks out as potentially slightly above league average defensively, but looks more like a non-liability on that end who wont be headhunted due to his size and moves well enough as a wing type where he wont get thrown into a buzzsaw of puck-and-rolls. He has some passing and handling juice, but neither project to be impacful in a primary or secondary creation role.

Similar to Jackson, Tatum is in a lesser sense the jack of all (most) trades, and the master of none. Unlike Jackson, Tatum is a decent bet to shoot league average or slightly above from 3 in time, given stronger indicators like FT%. However, I saw Tatum over the week of Hoop Summit practices a year ago, and even in settings where most players who taking 3s in drills he was taking a dribble inside the arc to shoot. I think that adjustment out to NBA 3, especially off the dribble but even off the catch, is going to be a steeper curve than most for someone who has a limited history taking even college 3s.

Overall, I’m just not sold on Tatum’s off the dribble shot-making fluidity on film to the extent I’d need to be to have him top 5 given the rest of his profile. He lacks the handle and pull-up threat to separate from primary NBA wing defenders, and isn’t an explosive finisher at the basket even when he gets there being an overall average athlete for a wing. I think there is enough here in terms of ancillary skills to invest a top 7 pick on, however, and there are arguments to place him ahead of Jackson (or even higher) based on being more likely to shoot and more capable of playing the four at the next level. I give Jackson a slight bump due to his defense, and the value of potentially having a true two-way wing. Tatum is a good bet to be a solid pro, but I see his likely outcome as closer to his floor than his conceptual go-to wing scorer narrative ceiling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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