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At the top guards in the NBA draft YODA looks

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-Baylor vs Gonzaga
Is Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs the best guard in the 2021 NBA Draft?
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

This weekend, I aggregated mock drafts to take a look at who might be available to the Wizards if they make a pick at 15. If the mocks hold up, the Wizards would have their pick of three good prospects — Alperen Sengun, a highly productive teenage center from Turkey, Gonzaga sharpshooting wing Corey Kispert, and Oregon sharpshooting wing Chris Duarte.

For the next few days, I’m taking a step back from Wizards-specific stuff to look more broadly at the draft. I’ll provide top 10 at three different position groups:

  • Guards — point guards, shooting guards and combo
  • Forwards — wings and fours who probably can’t play major minutes in the NBA at center, and
  • Bigs — centers and big fours who can play center (and might need to).

Today: guards.

I’ll be sharing insights drawn from analysis of publicly available statistical data and crunched through my stat-based draft tool Ye Olde Draft Analyzer (YODA for short). When I started putting YODA together, it was an exercise to see if it was possible to use stats to forecast how good prospects might be in the NBA.

The answer: sorta. I tweak the system every year as I learn from experience. YODA accounts for statistical production, age, level of competition and physical tools. In general, successful NBA players are highly productive in sub-NBA competition...but not always. Level of competition matters. Age and experience matters too.

Where possible, I use objective data from the combine to gauge size, agility, strength and leaping ability. For players who decline to participate in the combine, I review games and highlights to make my own assessment.

I’ll have more on YODA when I post the full rankings later in the week. For now, this year’s guards:

  1. Jalen Suggs, G, Gonzaga — Needs to shoot better and cut down on the turnovers, but he has all the physical tools, he defends well, and he was highly productive for one of the best teams in college basketball. I wouldn’t argue overmuch about someone preferring Green or Cunningham over Suggs. He edged them out for the top spot in YODA, however.
  2. Jalen Green, G, G League Ignite — By far the best teenager against G League competition last season, Green has all the physical tools to become a perennial All-Star. He did have some trouble finishing inside (52.9% from two-point range), but his three-point shooting was acceptable and his free throw shooting was excellent. He’ll probably begin at SG, but I’d be surprised if he doesn’t transition to lead guard in his first couple seasons.
  3. Cade Cunningham, PG, Oklahoma State — At 6-8, Cunningham has sufficient size and skills to play PG, SG or SF in the NBA. As he gets stronger (he’s still just 19-years-old), he can probably become a playmaking four if he wants. He’s the consensus top pick, which makes sense with his size, ball skills and three-point shooting. YODA has him third because of a poor two-point percentage (just 46.1%), more turnovers than assists, and relatively low non-scoring production — 21st among this year’s guards in assists + steals + blocks per 40 minutes (ASB40).
  4. Josh Giddey, PG, Adelaide — After the top three, there’s a significant step down to Giddey and then another step down to the rest of the top 10. At 6-8, Giddey is a big PG and dynamic passer. He averaged 9.2 rebounds and 9.2 assists per 40 minutes as a teenager playing in a decent professional league. The question on him: shooting — just 29.3% from three-point range and 69.1% from the free throw line.
  5. James Bouknight, SG, Connecticut — Before entering information on athleticism, Bouknight showed up in YODA with a second round grade. He looks better on video than on the stat sheet. He shot just 29.3% from three, and his 52.8% two-point shooting calls into question his ability to finish inside. Pluses: he gets to the free throw line (suggesting he pressures the defense) and he rebounded well. He’ll need to work on his defense.
  6. Davion Mitchell, PG, Baylor — Mitchell is probably getting too much buzz for his play in the NCAA tournament. He’s small, but he’s also an outstanding athlete, good playmaker, and excellent defender. I wouldn’t want to pick him in the top 10, which is where the mock drafts have him, though I think he could be a good pro.
  7. Jared Butler, PG, Baylor — Yes, Baylor is sending two good PGs to the NBA this summer, which for a few weeks looked to be in question due to Butler’s heart condition. A “fitness to play” panel cleared him, and he’s ready to go. The numbers show Butler to be a good playmaker and excellent shooter, who made an impact with his defense. With average size and lacking elite athleticism, he wasn’t a great finisher inside and his turnovers were higher than ideal for a lead guard. Still, his toughness, mature playmaking and shooting figure will help him carve out a role in an NBA rotation.
  8. Joel Ayayi, G, Gonzaga — Mock drafts have him as a second round pick, but Ayayi rates better than that in YODA. He’s a solid shooter, rebounder (8.8 boards per 40 minutes from the backcourt), secondary playmaker (3.5 assists per 40 on limited offensive touches), and defender. He’s the kind of player to buy into the second round to select — with the right team, he can be a low-cost (and productive) third guard. He needs to get stronger.
  9. Miles McBride, PG, West Virginia — In the late first or early second round, some team is going to pick McBride and end up happy when becomes a quality backup PG over the next couple years. His size is fine for a PG, and while he struggled to finish inside (43.9% from two-point range), his three-point and free throw shooting were excellent. He’s a good playmaker who produced a bunch of steals (2.2 per 40 minutes) and avoided turnovers.
  10. Jaden Springer, PG, Tennessee — Good size and shooting but didn’t finish well around the basket (47.5% from two). Excellent leaper who scored below average in agility tests at the combine. Decent prospect if he works on his body and decision-making — his 4.5 assists per 40 were offset by 3.7 turnovers.

Tomorrow: the forwards.