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The 2020 NBA Draft According to YODA

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UCLA v USC
USC’s Onyeka Okongwu rates in YODA’s top three and is an ideal fit for the Washington Wizards.
Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

The NBA Draft is tonight and the Wizards are well-stocked with needs. 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. And 2019.

In fairness, the situation is somewhat better than it has been the past two draft days. Under the leadership of general manager Tommy Sheppard, the Wizards shed sullen and expensive veterans and replaced them with young, cheap players with varying levels of potential.

The payroll is still bloated and top heavy, but there’s room to maneuver under the luxury tax — at least until the bidding war for Davis Bertans concludes — and the team has first and second round picks. Plus, John Wall is slated to return to action when games resume, which may give them a boost on both ends of the court.

Let’s get to the draft.

About YODA

YODA is my stat-based draft analysis tool. I posted about it on the RealGM Wizards message board when it was in development, referring to it as “Ye Olde Draft Analyzer.” Someone called it “YODA,” and the name stuck.

It was birthed by the Wizards’ loooooong record of draft futility. I got curious about whether a stat-based system that used only publicly-available information could do better. While the system has its hits and misses, it almost certainly would out-draft Grunfeld. Low bar, I know.

The base formula can be simplified to: points + 0.3 x defensive rebounds + 0.7 x offensive rebounds + steals + 0.5 x (assists + blocks) - 0.7 x field goals missed - field goals made - turnovers - 0.5 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.

Those age and levels of competition adjustments are critical. An 18-year old and a 22-year old could have identical statistical production against identical competition, but the stat line is much more predictive of future NBA success for the 18-year old than the 22-year old.

The level of competition factor helps prevent overvaluing players who dominate against lower level opponents.

Because of the pandemic, I don’t have physical measurements or athleticism scores from the combine. I’ve included such measurements from other sources where possible, but the data are incomplete.

As I — and others — have written previously, this year’s draft looks weak at the top. In my analysis, it’s a normal draft if we eliminated the top 4-5 players. Every player at the top has significant flaws they must remedy to achieve their potential.

That’s not to say there isn’t talent to be found. Good players will emerge — especially if the front office and coaching staff invests time and resources in development. And while the prospects have their deficits, they also have their strengths.

As usual, YODA disagrees with where some of the players appear to be ranked. For example, Anthony Edwards, who may be selected as high as second, ranks 10th in YODA. Meanwhile, Nate Hinton, who’s expected to be available in the second round — and who could go undrafted — ranks sixth.

On Hinton, I did a ton of extra research, looking for a reason to downgrade him. Ultimately, I didn’t find it. He reminds me of other players who rated well in YODA, fell to the second round and went on to be productive professionals — players like Jae Crowder, Danny Green and Will Barton.

Based on the array of mock drafts from credible sources, I think the Wizards have a chance to add a couple players who rank among the top 10 in YODA, even if they don’t trade up. Such an infusion of inexpensive talent could be a boost to the roster and help push the team a little higher in the Eastern Conference.

While it’s common for fans and analysts to discuss the draft in terms of team needs, I think this — as my grandfather was wont to say — is a fool’s errand. If two players rate about the same overall, and one fits a team need, then sure, go ahead and pick the guy who fits the need.

In general, rookies take a couple years to develop into reliable NBA contributors, and team needs evolve. The Wizards in particular need talent at every position on the roster. In other words, Sheppard and the Wizards should plan to take the best player available. Realistically, there’s a role for a good player at any position.

One note: James Wiseman isn’t listed here. If he’d done over a full season what he did in his three games at Memphis, he’d be the number one pick. But, three games is too small a sample size so he’s omitted from this stat-based analysis.

The Draft According to YODA

  1. LaMelo Ball, PG, International — Big PG who’s a creative passer. His shooting isn’t good, but as a teenager in a professional league playing against grown men, he averaged 9.5 rebounds and 8.7 assists per 40 minutes. In a normal draft, he goes fifth or sixth, most likely. In 2020, he’s the top prospect.
  2. Tyrese Haliburton, G, Iowa State — Another player I researched extensively to downgrade. Other than a funky shot and a skinny frame, I didn’t find one. In college, he was productive and efficient, and his ebullient personality reportedly lifts the performance of his teammates.
  3. Onyeka Okongwu, F/C, USC — Rated just barely below Haliburton. Quality defender who’s mobile, blocks shots and converts around the rim. If he and Haliburton are available at 9, the Wizards should pick Okongwu — they rate about the same and Okongwu fits the team’s biggest need. Okongwu doesn’t turn 20 until December 11.
  4. Devin Vassell, G/F, Florida State — A solid step down from the top three, Vassell is a promising shooter who’s floor is likely as a rotation 3&D wing. He needs to speed up his shooting motion.
  5. Obi Toppin, F/C, Dayton — Accomplished offensive player with big defensive deficiencies. Also, he’s already 22, and the record of 22-year olds selected in the top 10 over the past decade or so is cringeworthy. If he’s sitting there at 9, the Wizards should trade the pick or take him and make a trade.
  6. Nate Hinton, G/F, Houston — Terrific rebounder and solid defender who also shoots well from the three-point line. His usage was low in a lineup crowded with ball handlers and shooters, but this kid produced. I looked hard for reasons to downgrade him and didn’t find them. If he’s available when the Wizards pick in the second round, they should take him.
  7. Malachi Flynn, PG, San Diego State — Another guy expected to go later in the draft. There are reports that question his athleticism, which I was unable to verify using objective information. His production at San Diego State was excellent. He would seem to be another worthy selection if he’s available in the second round.
  8. Deni Avdija, F, International — Promising forward whose shooting is suspect. The Wizards could do worse if he’s available at 9, though drafting him would likely necessitate trades. He’s probably a minimum of two seasons from being a contributor.
  9. Isaac Okoro, SF, Auburn — Reputedly the best wing defender in the draft, Okoro’s poor perimeter shooting, meh free throw shooting and lack of rebounding are reason for pause. It’s an illustration of how weak this year’s draft is that he’s in the YODA top 10 with so many significant weaknesses.
  10. Anthony Edwards, SG, Georgia — Terrific athlete who looks better than he produces. He was inefficient on offense, shot poorly from three-point range and barely cracked 50% on twos. His rebounding, steals and blocks were pedestrian for someone with his reputed athleticism.
  11. Killian Hayes, PG, International — Doesn’t shoot well from three-point range, but he finishes well around the basket, is a terrific playmaker and generates a bunch of steals. Those are all good markers for applied athleticism. The Wizards tend to help players improve their shooting.
  12. Aaron Nesmith, G/F, Vanderbilt — Outstanding shooter without much dimension to his game. Might have ranked higher if he hadn’t gotten injured.
  13. Vernon Carey Jr., C, Duke — Another guy expected to go in the second round who I tried hard to downgrade. There are concerns about his athleticism — in particular his lateral movement — that I was unable to quantify objectively. Players like him historically have tended to be productive NBA players, though it’s an open question whether such historical comps have relevance in an evolving league. I’d be willing to pick him in the second round.
  14. R.J. Hampton, G, International — American kid who went overseas and struggled. He shot poorly — below 50% on twos and below 30% on threes. His free shooting was a meh 73.7%. His rebounding, assists and steals were decent.
  15. Jalen Smith, C, Maryland — Local kid whose shooting ability projects him as a stretch five. There are questions about his motor and an apparent tendency to disappear for long stretches. Unlikely to end up with the Wizards unless they trade back from 9.
  16. Daniel Oturu, C, Minnesota — A lot to like here — 59% on twos, 37% on threes, plus 13.3 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per 40 minutes.
  17. Xavier Tillman, C, Michigan State — YODA seems to have a thing for Big Ten centers just outside the lottery. Over 60% on twos, good rebounding and 3.7 assists per 40. Higher assists from a big man are often a sign he’ll be a good defender.
  18. Aleksej Pokusevski, F, International — After writing about him back in September, I did more research and the result was to upgrade him into the late first. Unlikely to land with the Wizards unless they trade back.
  19. Payton Pritchard, PG, Oregon — Good shooting and assist numbers.
  20. Reggie Perry, F/C, Mississippi State — I have concerns about his low two-point percentage, turnovers and fouling, but he profiles as a decent defender and possible stretch four or five.
  21. Devon Dotson, PG, Kansas — Probably has to play PG, but his long-range shooting is iffy and his assists were on the low side.
  22. Killian Tillie, PF, Gonzaga — Terrific shooter who doesn’t do much more, except get hurt.
  23. Isaiah Stewart, C, Washington — Converts well inside, makes his free throws, rebounds decently and blocks a few shots. Seems like a classic 12-14 minutes per game backup center in a couple years.
  24. Marko Simonivic, F/C, International — A Euro big who might make a decent stretch four or five.
  25. Yoeli Childs, F/C, BYU I added him to YODA late, and there’s a lot to like. He may be undersized to play center, but I think he could hold down a backup role because of his production — 59% on twos, 49% on threes to go with 12.5 rebounds and 30.8 points per 40 minutes. A few cautions (and why he’s ranked just 25th) — 53.8% from the free throw line, and low assist, steals and blocks. He may go undrafted, in which case the Wizards would be smart to bring to training camp and see if he can adjust to the NBA.
  26. Cassius Stanley, G/F, Duke — Acceptable shooting and rebounding and not a lot else. He can make a role for himself in the NBA if he becomes a quality defender.
  27. Tyrell Terry, G, Stanford — On the small side guy, but he can shoot — 42% from three and 89% from the free throw line.
  28. Precious Achiuw, F/C, Memphis — The rebounds and blocks look good; the 51% shooting from two-point range is a concern because it suggests difficulty finishing inside over defenders. He was put in a tough position by Wiseman leaving the team.
  29. Saddiq Bey, F, Villanova — I’ve seen him going as high as fifth or sixth in mock drafts, and I just don’t see that in the numbers. Good shooter from three-point range, but his anemic non-scoring stats are cause for concern.
  30. Josh Green, G/F, Arizona — Similar concerns with Achiuwa, but add in a poor two-point percentage.
  31. Kira Lewis, G, Alabama
  32. Immanuel Quickley, PG, Kentucky
  33. Freddie Gillespie, C, Baylor
  34. Tre Jones, PG, Duke
  35. Tyrique Jones, F/C, Xavier
  36. Tyler Bey, PF, Colorado
  37. Jahmi’us Ramsey, SG, Texas Tech
  38. Zeke Nnaji, C, Arizona
  39. Udoka Azubuike, C, Kansas
  40. Lamine Diane, SF, Cal State Northridge
  41. Mason Jones, SG, Arkansas
  42. Jared Butler, G, Baylor
  43. Nico Mannion, PG, Arizona
  44. Patrick Williams, F, Florida State — Lots of rumors about him going in the top 10. Lots of reasons to doubt that would be wise, including poor finishing at the rim, meh shooting from long range, and unimpressive rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. Oh yeah, he committed a lot of turnovers too. Maybe he’s this year’s version of Jaylen Brown, who was similarly unproductive in college but turned his athleticism into NBA production. Players with this kind of profile generally don’t fare well in the NBA, however.
  45. Skylar Mays, PG, LSU
  46. Yam Madar, G, International
  47. CJ Elleby, SF, Washington State
  48. Markus Howard, PG, Marquette

That’s where the list of players with a “draftable” YODA score ends.

Players with borderline scores include:

  • Paul Reed, C, DePaul
  • Cassius Winston, PG, Michigan State
  • Robert Woodard, G/F, Mississippi State
  • Leandro Balmaro, G/F, International
  • Trenton Watford, F, LSU
  • Aaron Henry, PG, Michigan State
  • Isaiah Joe, SG, Arkansas
  • Sam Merrill, SG, Utah State
  • Jalen Harris, SG, Nevada
  • Nick Richards, C, Kentucky
  • Jordan Nwora, F, Louisville

As usual, there are a few players expected to go in the first round who received YODA’s dreaded “don’t draft” rating. The first names that comes to mind who fell into this category: Kevin Knox and Issuf Sanon.

Here are potential first rounders with “don’t draft” scores in YODA:

  • Tyrese Maxey, SG, Kentucky — Bad shooting and poor non-scoring stats. Players like this usually don’t become good pros.
  • Jaden McDaniels, F, Washington — Atrocious finishing, meh rebounding and low numbers across the board except for turnovers and fouls.
  • Cole Anthony, PG, UNC — His 40% shooting from two-point range combined with low steals and blocks may be indicators that he lacks the athleticism necessary to be a good NBA player. He does rebound well for a PG.
  • Theo Maledon, G, International — His shooting is subpar but at least edging toward respectable. His per minute rebounds and assists aren’t bad. Why is he in “don’t draft” land? Rampant turnovers and fouls — more than 6 fouls per 40 minutes last season. If he can’t defend without fouling in less athletic international leagues, he’s going to be overwhelmed in the NBA.
  • Desmond Bane, G/F, TCU — Good shooter whose numbers don’t look bad. The problem: he’s a senior going against younger players so his production should be better.

Based on mock drafts from people who talk with NBA decision-makers, it’s at least possible the Wizards could stay put and end up with Haliburton or Okongwu (top three prospects, according to YODA) and Hinton (a top 10 prospect) in the second round. There may also be an opportunity to buy another second rounder to get what YODA says is a first round value.

Don’t see a name that interests you? Drop me a note in the comments, and I’ll run him through YODA (if he’s not already rated) and let you know where he stands.