After watching a ton of game film over the past few months, it's time to unveil my top 30 NBA Draft prospects.
Two notes before we begin:
- This is only American prospects. I have not seen any international prospects play in a full game, so I don't feel comfortable judging them. Based on what I've read, Dennis Schroeder and Sergey Karasev seem interesting, while Rudy Gobert looks like a bust and Giannis Adetokoubo is a complete unknown. But it's impossible for me to rank them properly while just going off media reports and highlight videos.
- I can only go off what I've seen in games. Often times, a player's personality is what determines their NBA future, but I cannot judge that accurately without really getting to know a prospect.
Thus, away we go!
1. Nerlens Noel
The big question with Noel is his knee. A torn ACL is one thing; a growth plate that caused him to miss time as a sophomore is another.
But I am no doctor and can only go off what I've seen. If Noel is healthy once his ACL recovers, he's the clear No. 1 guy on the board to me. He's a triple threat defensively: he can switch onto a guard, hedge hard on a pick and roll and protect the rim. His blocks + steals numbers are crazy for a college freshman and give me hope that his athleticism can translate. I'm also not too concerned by his weight; he's skinny, sure, but he's only 19 and the league is getting smaller. By his prime, he should be closer to average size for a center than you'd think.
His lack of offense certainly makes him a shaky No. 1 overall guy, but I've seen some good things from him as a passer this year. He lacks low-post ability and isn't a great shooter, both of which will eventually need to change a bit. But he'll get points on lobs and rolls to the rim with a better point guard than Ryan Harrow.
If he somehow falls, the Wizards should jump to take him.
2a. Otto Porter
2b. Victor Oladipo
2c. Trey Burke
I rank these three together because I think they're very even and I can't decide between them. Team needs should dictate the pick, which means the Wizards would select Porter if Noel was off the board and all three of these guys were still available. I laid out the case for Porter over the weekend.
Oladipo has a lot going for him, which is why he's in the same tier as two younger prospects. He's my clear preference over Ben McLemore because you can't teach his athleticism and defensive intensity. I also think his court vision is underrated, particularly making pick-and-roll pocket passes like this.
Two reasons he's in Porter's tier and not higher: his age and his ball-handling. If Oladipo was Porter's age, he'd be a potential No. 1 pick, but research shows that college juniors don't see their production translate as well to the NBA as sophomores or freshmen. (Kevin Pelton notes this here). His ball-handling is also very weak, especially going left, as you see here.
Still, Oladipo will be a good one, and I have him ranked as the best shooting guard on the board.
I'm stunned that Burke is sliding to the lottery, given his age, role on his team and his super-consistent production. Burke has two remarkably impressive qualities for a young point guard: a great pull-up jumper and superior ball-handling. Many young guards struggle with turnovers, but Burke coughed it up on just 12 percent of his possessions despite having the ball in his hands on nearly every play. I'm stunned that Michael Carter-Williams, who was significantly worse in conference play and is 13 months older than Burke, is reportedly ranked higher on many team's boards. The only reason he isn't No. 1 is that he's not a great defender and his athletic testing numbers were so-so.
5. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
This was all set to be my bold pick of the board until Kevin Pelton's WARP projection ranked KCP No. 2 overall, ahead of everyone but Nerlens Noel. Nevertheless, let me explain myself:
First, look at Caldwell-Pope's production. Playing for a terrible Georgia team, Caldwell-Pope:
- Averaged 18.5 points per game on a team where nobody else averaged more than eight.
- Grabbed seven rebounds per contest on a team where nobody else averaged more than five.
- Averaged over three steals + blocks per 40 minutes, showing his athletic ability.
- Hit 37 percent of his threes and 51 percent of his twos despite being forced to take some brutal shots at the end of the shot clock.
6. Anthony Bennett
This is about the point where I'm willing to gamble on Bennett's massive offensive potential and deal with his horrendous defense and poor court vision. At No. 3, it's too much for me, but a few picks later, I'm willing to roll the dice.
7. Ben McLemore
My concern with McLemore is threefold.
One, he didn't use very many possessions at Kansas, and while he played on a veteran team, he still failed to take advantage of the few opportunities he got to be more of a spot-up shooter. When he played well, it's because he was raining in threes from the perimeter.
Second, look at his home/road/neutral splits.
I saw many Big 12 road games where he just didn't make any sort of impact. I'd expect a player to be better at home, but those massive splits are concerning.
Finally, despite his length, he really wasn't an impact defender in college. I didn't see very many game-changing plays that blew up defensive possessions. More often, I saw him lose his man easily, like this.
He got away with it there, but he won't in the NBA.
I think McLemore will be a useful pro thanks to his shooting, but I struggle to see how he'll become a major impact player that affects the game in as many ways as Caldwell-Pope.
8. Cody Zeller
Should make a pretty seamless transition into a pick-and-pop power forward that drains mid-range jumpers, makes excellent passes from the high post and blows up pick-and-pops with excellent foot speed. He lacks length and strength, which makes me wonder about those LaMarcus Aldridge comparisons, but a better Darrell Arthur seems reasonable to expect.
9. Alex Len
I've watched him more than any other prospect in this draft, and I'm still not sure what to make of him. On the one hand, his guards really did suck, and he does seem to possess the kind of mobility that allows him to blow up plays before they happen even if he's not getting blocks or steals. On the other hand, he played poorly against smaller players, didn't exactly light the ACC on fire in general and has "shies away from contact" as a known weakness. (Also: lots of college teams struggle to involve their big men, so Len isn't that special there).
10. Shane Larkin
Surprised he's getting so little love. He's a sophomore point guard that grabbed a group of seniors by the horns and became their leader, guiding his college to its best season in school history. He was a bit shaky at the end of the year, but that's because Miami relied on him too much. No point guard in college basketball ran more pick and rolls than Larkin, so his game should translate beautifully to the next level. He might be a little shot-happy and small to be a full-time point guard, but at worst, he's a valuable reserve like J.J. Barea.
11. Allen Crabbe
Like Caldwell-Pope, Crabbe will benefit from a reduced role in the pros. His three-point percentage was a bit down in conference play, but that was often because he was taking difficult shots for a team that was very perimeter-oriented. I watched him destroy UCLA in Berkeley and that made a heck of an impression on me. His ability to come off screens is going to be really useful in the NBA, especially if he goes to the right team (say, Chicago). I also am encouraged by his wingspan and think he'll defend at a higher level when he has less of a scoring load to carry.
12. Tony Mitchell
He's here with trepidation. There's a lot not to like about Mitchell, from his dip in college production, his poor shot selection and his sometimes-lagging effort. But his college team was absolutely terrible this year, particularly in finding him when he had good post position. Notice how his guard first misses him when he has his man sealed, then throws a soft lob pass that allows the defense to double team.
This is a draft littered with potential role players, but Mitchell is one of the few that has legitimate star potential. I expected him to be a raw defensive player that blocked shots and blew assignments, but in the clips I saw of him, he was actually better than I expected with positioning and helpside communication. His poor three-point percentage this year was mostly due to bad selection, not bad mechanics. On an NBA team, he won't be asked to shoulder such a heavy load, which could potentially turn him into one of those lethal Stretch 4 types that also defends.
There's a lot of downside, but that upside's tough to pass up in the middle of the first round.
13. C.J. McCollum
A bit surprised McCollum is getting looks as high as No. 5. I think he's a nice prospect that should have a good NBA career, but I don't think he's really a plus passer or defender, and he's undersized. He also really hasn't played at a super-high level for that long in college thanks to his foot injury this year, so it's tough to say whether his game translates as well as someone who played a full season.
That's not to say he will bust. He'll function best as a Jarrett Jack-type -- a third guard that can play with another ball-handler on a unique offensive team like the Warriors. I'm just having trouble seeing the kind of potential that Damian Lillard showed last season.
14. Gorgui Dieng
15. Mason Plumlee
16. Steven Adams
Three centers that all have their pluses and minuses. Dieng is the best rim protector and passer. Plumlee is probably the best pick and roll defender, as evidenced by this play.
Adams is the interesting one. On the one hand, he has great size and mobility, and he has few bad habits. On the other hand, how many players like Adams have really panned out? He seems years away from even being able to catch and finish at an NBA level. Tough call.
17. Erick Green
18. Jamaal Franklin
His inability to shoot knocks him below Caldwell-Pope, Crabbe, McLemore and Oladipo in the shooting guard pool, but on the right team, that can be masked. Otherwise, he carried a heavy load while contributing significantly as a defender and on the glass.
I didn't love his shot selection in the games I saw, though, and he committed a lot of turnovers. His offense really needs to improve.
19. Ricky Ledo
Have never seen him play, but given his high-school ranking, he's got to be worth a gamble somewhere around here.
20. Jeff Withey
On the one hand, I think he dominated last year in part because he was just bigger than everyone else, which won't happen at the pro level. On the other hand, he blocked a ridiculous number of shots without fouling. As a backup center, you could do worse.
21. Shabazz Muhammad
So much about his game bothers me. He's praised for his ability to move without the ball, but it's always simply so he can put himself in position to shoot. I've often seen him make a cut in front of another open player, ruining a potential passing lane. His tunnel vision doesn't just extend to when he has the ball. I've noticed a number of plays like this defensively where he doesn't even bother to try to stop a driving player because it's not his man.
Possible silver linings: he could become a better spot-up shooter, and he did play on a particularly strange UCLA team. But I think he's sliding because NBA teams have discovered just how one-dimensional he is.
22. Reggie Bullock
Smart draft gurus on the Internet are high on Bullock, citing Danny Green's production in the Finals. I'm lukewarm on Bullock and think he's a bit one-dimensional, but there's enough of a mob going the other way that makes me think this ranking might be a bit too low.
23. Jackie Carmichael
24. Mike Muscala
Two useful mid-major big men that will probably slide further than they should. Of the two, I prefer Carmichael, but lots of people I respect like Muscala too.
25. Nate Wolters
He had some really great performances this year, lighting up Alabama early in the year, New Mexico in December and Fort Wayne for 53 in January. He also was just OK in a critical late-season showdown with Isaiah Canaan and Murray State and really struggled against Trey Burke and Michigan. I saw the latter two and not the former three, so I don't have a great handle on his prospects. Keep that in mind.
He's clearly productive as hell, and South Dakota State was a small team that spread the floor in a manner similar to NBA clubs. Those are things he has going for him. I'm just not sure he's going to be quick enough to get by guys in the NBA. He seemed a little too left-hand dominant too and sometimes gave it up too quickly when being trapped.
This seems like the right place for him.
26. Michael Carter-Williams
I just don't get it. Here's what Carter-Williams has going for him:
Here's what he doesn't:
- Can't shoot -- he shot 38 percent from the field in conference play.
- Unbelievably turnover prone -- 22% turnover percentage this season.
- Struggles to finish around the rim -- shot just 44 percent on two-pointers this season.
- Is turning 22 in October, so it's not like he's this raw prospect that has lots of physical development left. For reference, Carter-Williams 13 months older than Trey Burke and nearly two years older than Bradley Beal. If he's not better than Burke now, why will he be better in the future?
- Has not played in a man-to-man defensive scheme, making me wonder about whether he can be the lead point guard running through a zillion pick and rolls.
27. Archie Goodwin
28. Kelly Olynyk
Was really great offensively this year, but that was only after sticking around in college for a while and playing in a system that heightened his strengths. He has really bad defensive instincts, too, which scare me. Reminds me a lot of Nick Fazekas, an advanced stat all-star that flamed out in the NBA.
29. Ryan Kelly
The best of the many Stretch 4 candidates in the second round.
30. Myck Kabongo
Not sure he really knows how to play yet, but he's young and has some great natural tools. I might be willing to gamble on him considering this was a lost year.