The NBA Draft is tonight and the Wizards are well-stocked with needs. But due to the management skills of Ernie Grunfeld and Ted Leonsis, the team has a corpulent payroll while lacking elite performers and depth. That’s some kind of trifecta.
Oh wait, that was how my draft story began in 2018. A year later, the Wizards’ situation is worse. They have about $90 million in salaries on the books for next season and just one player who’s both healthy and good (Bradley Beal). Their franchise leader and best player will be sidelined for most of the season as he recovers from a torn Achilles.
But, there’s hope — long-time team president Ernie Grunfeld is gone (though not yet replaced) and the Wizards have the ninth pick in the draft.
Analysis of this year’s draft class suggests the Wizards will have opportunities to add inexpensive youngsters with potential to become good pros, especially if they’re willing to trade down for multiple picks, take on a bad contract or two to help a competitive team create cap space, or use cash to purchase second round picks.
Results from my draft tool, Ye Olde Draft Analyzer (YODA), which combines statistical analysis with publicly available information, suggests that players with ratings that would be in the top 10 in most drafts will be available in the late first and early second rounds. Other players with mid-to-late first round grades could be had throughout the second round, and even as undrafted free agents.
Before delving into the prospects, I emphasize there are few certainties when attempting to predict the future of young men in their late teens and early twenties. Whether employing an approach based on statistical analysis and objective measurables, such as YODA, or extensive scouting, there are several worthwhile processes of evaluation and no guarantees.
This goes for NBA teams, which have more information and resources at their disposal. Most teams attempt to blend objective stat-driven models (such as YODA) and more subjective criteria such as injury risk assessments, background checks, interviews and extensive scouting. They still miss with regularity because they’re attempting to predict the future of young men in their late teens and early twenties, and that’s challenging.
Draft history indicates that players who were more productive in college or in professional leagues around the world tend to be better NBA players, but there are exceptions. For instance, few college players were more productive than Michael Beasley, and he was an NBA bust.
Many NCAA and international players have the potential to be good in the NBA, but every draft prospect is unfinished and needs to develop. What separates players is their willingness and capacity to work. Marginal prospects who do that work can sustain productive NBA careers — former Wizards guard Garrett Temple is a prime example.
So what is YODA? Well, it has nothing to do with the Jedi Master.
Ye Olde Draft Analyzer (YODA) came about mainly because the Wizards had done such a lousy job drafting over the years. Thinking that an objective, stat-based system could do better, I built one while talking about it on a Wizards message board. I kept calling it Ye Olde Draft Analyzer, someone shortened it to YODA and the name stuck.
The base formula can be simplified to: points + .3 x defensive rebounds + .7 x offensive rebounds + steals + .5 x (assists + blocks) - .7 x (field goals missed) - field goals made - turnovers - .5 x (free throw attempts + fouls). Additional steps include accounting for age, level of competition, position and physical attributes such as length and athleticism. All inputs come from publicly available information.
Who are the best draft prospects with YODA?
At the top of the draft is generational talent Zion Williamson who has the highest score for a prospect in the YODA database, which goes back to 2010. Yes, Williamson’s grade is even higher than former Kentucky standout Anthony Davis. Just for kicks, I once ran Shaquille O’Neal through the system, and Williamson’s score even eclipses Shaq’s. Williamson’s perimeter shooting is an area that needs work, but stats and scouting agree he’s a unique talent with superstar potential.
After Williamson, there’s broad consensus among credible mock drafts that Murray State guard Ja Morant and Duke guard R.J. Barrett will be chosen next. YODA agrees. After that, expect Darius Garland, Jarrett Culver, De’Andre Hunter, Coby White and Cam Reddish to come off the board, more or less in that order. YODA is a bit more skeptical of this grouping and has some different names in the top eight. In most cases, the difference between YODA score and the consensus are small enough that reasonable minds can make their own call. But not with Reddish.
He’s a consensus top 10 pick. Despite an atrocious season at Duke, no mock I consulted had him going later than 10th, and one had him going as early as fifth. In my analysis, Reddish was mostly red flags — below 40% shooting on two-point attempts (suggesting problems getting to the basket and finishing), poor rebounding and assist rates, high turnovers. Analytic pluses: solid free throw shooting and steals.
Most of the reasons offered to explain Reddish’s poor performance don’t stand up to scrutiny. One theory is that he was overly deferential to talented teammates like Williamson and Barrett. But, His usage rate was over 25%, which is on the high end in the draft class. His efficiency was low even though he shared the floor with those same high-quality players attracting defensive attention so he wasn’t being asked to do too much. He had opportunity and advantages, yet he still played poorly. He has a “don’t draft” grade in YODA — not even in the second round.
Who should the Wizards draft, considering YODA?
The expert consensus is that the Wizards will choose either Texas big man Jaxson Hayes or French forward Sekou Doumbouya. Reports over the past few days indicate interim team president and the Wizards braintrust have a strong interest in North Carolina point guard Coby White, but they would likely need to trade up to the fifth or sixth pick to get him.
According to my analysis in YODA, neither Hayes nor Doumbouya should be the pick at nine, and trading up for White might be too pricey — especially for a team as resource-starved as the Wizards.
White is a good prospect who will probably be a good NBA player. Players most like him from previous drafts include Jamal Murray. But, Washington has so few marketable assets they would likely need to send the ninth pick plus a future first to get him, and that’s too much.
Hayes is a decent prospect who blocked shots, generated steals and converted around the basket. But, his rebounding was poor for a center, he’s not much of a passer (which also raises questions about his defense — research shows that for bigs, assists are an indicator of defense), he’s foul prone (5.7 fouls per 40 minutes), and he has little shooting ability away from the rim (zero three-point attempts). In many ways, the Wizards already have a talent like this in Thomas Bryant, if they re-sign him. Except, Bryant has a jump shot out to the three-point line.
The appeal of Doumbouya is his size and athleticism. He didn’t grade as a top 10 pick in YODA, however, because of subpar three-point shooting, elevated turnovers on a low usage rate, excessive fouling, and an overall lack of production. Doumbouya may become a good pro, but analytically, his 2018-19 season was lackluster. His profile isn’t one that usually indicates a high level of NBA success.
The Wizards may be wise to trade down, perhaps with Boston (picks 14, 20 and 22), Philadelphia (24, 33 and 34), San Antonio (19 and 29), Detroit (15 and 30) or Brooklyn (17 and 31). With some combination of those picks, Washington could take prospects likely to become rotation players at reasonable prices.
If they stay at nine, my analysis suggests they’d be better off selecting Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura (outstanding shooter who can fill the much-coveted stretch-four role) or Georgian center Goga Bitadze (quality scorer inside with a knack for getting to the free throw line, and a good shot blocker — although foul prone).
Players from previous drafts most similar to Hachimura and Bitadze suggest a solid starter or high-minute bench player rather than a star, but that’s okay at nine. The same is true of most other players likely to be available at that spot...unless the Wizards are willing to accept considerable risk.
If the Wizards are able to trade down (or are willing to accept risk), they could consider players such as:
- Brandon Clarke, F/C, Gonzaga — One of the strangest players I’ve analyzed. He has a center’s game, but in a body that’s about the size of a typical NBA shooting guard. Despite a smaller stature and short arms (for a basketball player), Clarke was wildly productive — second in the draft class in blocks per 40 minutes, and second in combined rebounds, steals and blocks per 40. The statistical production, which includes converting on 71% of his two-point attempts is at least in part due to his elite athletic ability. Somehow, with shooting guard size, he averaged 4.5 blocks per 40 minutes. And his production wasn’t a one-year fluke — he performed similarly (though not as well overall) in his two seasons at San Jose State. It’s an open question whether he can translate anything resembling his collegiate production into the NBA. The Wizards should not consider taking him ninth (unless they’re willing to accept that risk I mentioned), but if they can land a pick in the late teens or twenties, he’s a tantalizing prospect. Players from previous drafts most similar to Clarke include top five picks, several of which have been All-Stars or near All-NBA level. However, each of those players was a size appropriate to his NBA position.
- Dylan Windler, G/F, Belmont — Mock draft consensus has the swingman going in the late first or early second. But, even after accounting for the relatively weak competition and his age (both are part of YODA) he grades like a top 10 pick in most drafts. Windler is an elite shooter (66% on twos, 43% from three, and 85% from the free throw line), who was productive across the board throughout his career at Belmont. His physical measurements and athletic tests at the combine were within NBA positional norms, except agility, which was above average.
- Bol Bol, C, Oregon — The son of former Bullets great Manute Bol, he managed just nine games and 268 minutes for Oregon this season. That was enough to showcase considerable skills and worry points. He’s tall and slow, and his defensive instincts were subpar. But...he’s enormously skilled with shooting range out to the three-point line and long enough to still be a defensive factor even with poor reactions. The mock drafts expect him to last beyond the lottery and he would make an interesting boom/bust prospect if the Wizards are able to obtain multiple picks. He’s too much of a risk to be their lone pick, however.
- Chuma Okeke, F, Auburn — Okeke’s overall grade is similar to that of a typical top 10 pick. He’s expected to last until the second round because of the torn ACL he sustained in the Sweet 16 game this past March. Assuming a normal recovery from the knee injury, Okeke has a good chance of becoming a modern NBA forward — he’s a good shooter with three-point range, finishes well in traffic, good rebounder, willing passer, decent ball handler, and switchable on defense.
If the Wizards want a center, they’d be smart to skip Hayes at nine, and obtain a second round pick to use on Arkansas’ Daniel Gafford or Tennessee’s Grant Williams, who has three-point range, shot 82% from the free throw line, and averaged 4.0 assists per 40 minutes.
If they want a sweet-shooting international swingman, they can bypass Doumbouya and snap up Marcos Louzada Silva from Brazil in round two. Or they could take a flyer on Michigan freshman Iggy Brazdeikis, who led the Wolverines in scoring.
If they seek depth at point guard, they can likely have their pick in the second round from players with first-round grades in YODA such as Shamorie Ponds of St. John’s or LSU’s Tremont Waters.
If they want a hyper-athletic combo guard, they could do worse than Tennessee’s Jordan Bone.
Or, they could pick Serbian F/C Alen Smailagic, who played for Golden State’s G League team last season. Most draft analysts expect the Warriors to draft Smailagic with the 58th pick in the draft, but his G League performance got a mid-first grade in YODA.
YODA’s Draftable Players
- Zion Williamson, F, Duke
- Ja Morant, PG, Murray State
- R.J. Barrett, SG, Duke
- Coby White, PG, UNC
- Rui Hachimura, F, Gonzaga
- Goga Bitadze, C, Georgia
- Darius Garland, PG, Vanderbilt
- Jarrett Culver, SG, Texas Tech
- P.J. Washington, PF, Kentucky
- Jaxson Hayes, C, Texas
Oddballs With Top 10 Grades, but Will Be Available Later
- Dylan Windler, G/F, Belmont
- Brandon Clarke, F/C, Gonzaga
- Bol Bol, C, Oregon
- Chuma Okeke, F, Auburn
- De’Andre Hunter, SF, Virginia
- Alen Smailagic, F/C, Serbia (GSW G League)
- Keldon Johnson, F, Kentucky
- Tyler Herro, SG, Kentucky
- Cameron Johnson, F, UNC
- Marcos Louzada Silva, G/F, Brazil
- Grant Williams, F/C, Tennessee
- Daniel Gafford, C, Arkansas
- Mfiondu Kabengle, F/C, Florida State
- Shamorie Ponds, PG, St. John’s
- Sekou Doumbouya, F, Guinea
- Ignas Brazdeikas, F, Michigan
- Tremont Waters, PG, LSU
- Bruno Fernando, C, Maryland
- Jalen Smith, PF, Maryland
- Nickeil Alexander-Walker, SG, Virginia Tech
- Zach Norvell, SG, Gonzaga
- Jaylen Hands, PG, UCLA
- Nassir Little, F, UNC
- Romeo Langford, SG, Indiana
- Jordan Bone, G, Tennessee
- Amir Hinton, G, Shaw
- Jordan Nwora, SF, Louisville
- Luka Samanic, F/C, Croatia
- Deividas Sirvydis, SF, Lithuania
- Justin Robinson, PG, Virginia Tech
- John Konchar, SG, Purdue-Fort Wayne
- Moses Brown, C, UCLA
- Jared Harper, PG, Auburn
- Nicolas Claxton, C, Georgia
- Kyle Guy, G, Virginia
- KZ Okpala, G/F Stanford
- Charles Bassey, C, Western Kentucky
- Joshua Obiesie, PG, Germany
- Dedric Lawson, PF, Kansas
The mock drafts have an array of players they expect to be drafted who fall below the YODA cut line (along with their average mock position — AMP), including:
- Cam Reddish, G/F, Duke, AMP: 8.4
- Kevin Porter Jr., G/F, USC, AMP: 19.9
- Ty Jerome, PG, Virginia, AMP: 29.3
- Matisse Thybulle, SF, Washington, AMP 30.7
- Carsen Edwards, PG, Purdue, AMP: 31.9
- Luguentz Dort, SG, Arizona State, AMP 34.3
- Talen Horton-Tucker, SG, Iowa State, AMP: 34.3
- Eric Paschall, F, Villanova, AMP: 37.3
- Admiral Schofield, SF, Tennessee, AMP: 41.4
- Naz Reid, C, LSU, AMP: 42.4
- Isaiah Roby, PF, Nebraska, AMP: 44.0
- Louis King, SF, Oregon, AMP: 45.4
- Jontay Porter, F/C, Missouri, AMP: 45.7
- Jalen McDaniels, PF, San Diego State, AMP: 47.9
Overall, this year’s draft is weaker at the top than in previous years — after Williamson, of course. But, the talent distribution is fairly even and it’s likely several solid contributors will be found later in the night. Usually, trading down isn’t an optimal strategy in the NBA, but in 2019 it appears to be the best move for the Wizards.
Have questions or didn’t see mention of a player that interests you? Shoot a tweet to @broom_kevin. I’ll be on Twitter off and on throughout the day, and then during most of the draft.