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2021 NBA Draft: The YODA Big Board

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-Baylor vs Gonzaga
Could the top player in the 2021 NBA Draft be Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs?
IndyStar-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past few days, I’ve used Ye Olde Draft Analyzer (YODA) to take a look at the top guards, forwards and bigs in the 2021 NBA Draft. I also aggregated credible mock drafts to see which prospects might be available if the Wizards use their pick at 15, and recorded a podcast about the draft with Matt Modderno.

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’ lengthy record of draft futility. I got curious about whether a stat-based system that used only publicly-available information could do better. The answer is maybe, but there’s no reason for an either/or on the question. Statistical analysis and scouting go together.

In YODA, I allow for a small measure of subjectivity in a category I call “intangibles.” As I told Matt during the podcast, it can be used to reward players who excel defensively (think Matisse Thybulle, or this year, Usman Garuba), are extraordinarily high-character (Malcolm Brogdon, for example), or someone like Cade Cunningham whose decision-making and passing looks excellent but whose teammates aren’t much good.

It can work the other way too — someone with serious injuries, behavioral issues or questionable character can get a demerit.

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. The inputs come from publicly available information. In some cases, where prospects don’t participate in the combine to get officially measured and tested, I review video to make my own assessment.

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 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. The weaker the competition, the more important it is for a player to utterly dominate.

In preparation for this year’s draft, I took a harder look at quantifying the quality of international leagues.

I’ve heard lots of chatter about this being a generational draft with multiple players having number one overall pick quality. While I think it’s a good draft, YODA doesn’t support the idea that it’s “generational.” In YODA, there’s a solid number one (but not the consensus top pick), four more high-quality players who score like top three picks in most drafts, another who’d typically score in the 3-5 range, and then four more who’d typically rank in the top seven. There’s a step down in quality at that point, but good prospects remain.

The YODA Big Board

  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. Jalen Green, Evan Mobley and Cade Cunningham could all reasonably be made the top pick, though Suggs rates solidly ahead of them.
  2. Evan Mobley, F/C, USC — Long and athletic, Mobley has outstanding agility and plenty of reason to think he can be a high-quality NBA center. Like any teenager, he’ll need to get stronger, and it’s conceivable he can improve his shooting enough to play PF regularly. The numbers suggest his best position will be in the middle.
  3. 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.
  4. 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. He’s fourth overall in YODA 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).
  5. Alperen Sengun, C, Besiktas — Insanely productive in a good professional league at age 18 — a 64.1% effective field goal percentage, 67.4% on twos, 79.4% on free throws, plus 12.4 rebounds, 3.8 assist, 1.9 steals (excellent for a big) and 2.2 blocks per 40 minutes. His production indicates a high likelihood of NBA success, but there are legitimate questions about whether his physical tools will allow him to play a similar interior-oriented style in the NBA.
  6. Scottie Barnes, SF, Florida State — Barnes has remarkable physical tools — PF length and SG-level athleticism. He’s a disruptive defender who produced a superb 6.6 assists per 40 minutes. The drawbacks: 27.5% shooting from three, 62.1% from the free throw line, and 4.0 turnovers per 40.
  7. Corey Kispert, SF, Gonzaga — Excellent shooter who can attack closeouts and finish at the rim. Not much playmaking or defense, and as a senior, it’s fair to wonder how much upside he has in those areas — especially since there are some questions about his athleticism.
  8. Moses Moody, G/F, Arkansas — His score in YODA is identical to Kispert’s. He’s not an impressive athlete, but he’s big and rebounds decently for a swingman type.
  9. Franz Wagner, F, Michigan — Good shooter and decent rebounder who attacks closeouts with confidence and passes well on the move.
  10. Josh Giddey, PG, Adelaide — 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. He’s impressed in Olympics play this summer.
  11. Jalen Johnson, F, Duke — Johnson has great talent and some outstanding numbers in several areas, and...he quit his team to prepare for the draft and produced downright crappy numbers in other areas. The good: 44.4% shooting from three, 11.4 rebounds per 40, 4.2 assists, 2.2 steals, 2.3 blocks. The bad: 53.8% on twos (low for someone of his size, skill and athleticism), 63.2% free throw percentage, more turnovers than assists.
  12. James Bouknight, SG, Connecticut — Meh production, but he’s an impressive athlete with the right physical tools, and he seems to be skilled. 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.
  13. Jonathan Kuminga, F, G League Ignite — If you shot me with truth serum — or a good red — I might tell you that I think Kuminga has bust written all over him. He has the theoretical tools to be terrific, but he was also more than 30 points per 100 possessions below average in offensive efficiency in the G League. YODA still sees lottery-level potential.
  14. Davion Mitchell, PG, Baylor — Mitchell is getting too much buzz for his play in the NCAA tournament — one of the lessons from draft analysis is to be aware. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. Kai Jones, F/C, Texas — Impressive athlete who seems to think he’s a wing but would be better suited to play center. His rebounding (8.5 per 40 minutes) was low for a C, and he showed no playmaking ability. Decent three-point percentage on low volume, and while his steal numbers are nice for a big (1.5 per 40), his blocks are unimpressive (1.6 per 40).
  17. Filip Petrusev, F/C, Mega Soccerbet — Opted out of his junior year at Gonzaga to become MVP of the Basketball League of Serbia, a good professional league. He’s an excellent shooter who scores efficiently around the basket and rebounds effectively. Defense, passing and overall athleticism are question marks.
  18. Jared Butler, PG, Baylor — Rates as a first round pick despite a 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.
  19. 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.
  20. Chris Duarte, G/F, Oregon — Excellent shooting and finishing. Effective attacking closeouts with some playmaking ability. Skilled defender who had 2.2 steals per 40. Why isn’t he higher? He’s already 24, and while his numbers are solid they’re not the kind of domination to be expected of a 23-year-old going against 18-20 year olds.
  21. Joe Wieskamp, G/F, Iowa — The mock drafts have him as a second round pick, which would make a Wieskamp a potential bargain. He’s an eye-popping athlete who shot 46.2% from three-point range this season and grabbed 9.1 rebounds per 40. Concerns: low two-point percentage suggests he may trouble inside against NBA competition, and sub-70% free throw shooting raises an eyebrow about his shooting.
  22. Isaiah Jackson, C, Kentucky — Strengths: rebounding and blocked shots (5.0 per 40). Concerns: just 54.8% on twos (low for a big man), twice as many turnovers as assists, and rampant fouling (5.8 per 40).
  23. Usman Garuba, F/C, Real Madrid — Undersized big with a seriously limited offensive game. But, he’s a freak athlete and elite defender who can legitimately switch all five positions. He’s the kind of player who’d make sense in the late first or early second round. Sorta reminds me of Ben Wallace.
  24. 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.
  25. Day’Ron Sharpe, C, UNC — Big time rebounder (15.8 per 40 minutes) who couldn’t finish inside (52.3% on twos), shot just 50.5% from the free throw line, and blocked just 1.9 shots per 40. He produced 3.0 assists per 40 (decent) but with 4.1 turnovers (not too good).
  26. Charles Bassey, C, Western Kentucky — Scored inside, grabbed rebounds and blocked shots against relatively weaker competition. Showed no passing ability. Talented, though a bit ground-bound. Project center type.
  27. Matthew Hurt, PF, Duke — Stretch-four profile. Terrific shooter (44.4% on threes) who finished well inside (63.9% on twos) and...not much else. Subpar rebounding, no playmaking, not much defense. Still, there’s a place in the NBA for 6-9 guys who can catch-and-shoot (hi there, Davis Bertans).
  28. Cameron Thomas, SG, LSU — Confident (irrationally?) offensive player who attacked constantly (8.9 free throw attempts per 40 minutes) while shooting a ton of threes (8.5 per 40), though not well (32.5%). Not much else to his game, but his offensive aggression is worth a look.
  29. Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland, G, VCU — Aside from the fact that I’ll root for anyone nicknamed “Bones,” Hyland is lightning quick, tough, and a good shooter (37.1% from three and 86.2% on free throws).
  30. Moses Wright, PF, Georgia Tech — Considered to be athletic, but it doesn’t really pop in the numbers. Just 54.3% on twos, decent but unexceptional blocks and steals. Decent on the offensive glass but not driven to dominate defensive boards. Has some stretch-four potential (41.4% on a low volume of threes), but he’ll have to stop turning down open looks from outside.
  31. Neemias Queta, C, Utah State — Massive big man who’s also remarkably slow. Still, he was All-Defense all three years at Utah State, and he has a chance to become a decent backup center.
  32. Trey Murphy III, SF, Virginia — Expected to go much higher, but whatever it is he’s supposed to do well doesn’t show in the numbers.
  33. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, PF, Villanova
  34. Justin Champagnie, SF, Pitt
  35. Quentin Grimes, SG, Houston
  36. Tre Mann, PG, Florida
  37. Sharife Cooper, PG, Auburn
  38. DJ Steward, PG, Duke
  39. Jordan Schakel, SF, San Diego State — SHOOTER!
  40. Santi Aldama, PF, Loyola (MD)
  41. McKinley Wright IV, PG, Colorado
  42. Ayo Dosunmu, G, Illinois
  43. Isaiah Livers, F, Michigan
  44. Jay Huff, C, Virginia
  45. Daishen Nix, PG, G League Ignite
  46. JT Thor, PF, Auburn
  47. Jose Alvarado, PG, Georgia Tech
  48. Luke Garza, C, Iowa
  49. Sam Hauser, SF, Virginia
  50. Jaquori McLaughlin, PG, UCSB

Players with borderline scores include:

  • Trendon Watford, PF, LSU
  • Balsa Koprivica, C, Florida State
  • Herb Jones, SF, Alabama
  • Dawson Garcia, F/C, Marquette
  • Ziaire Williams, G/F, Stanford
  • Joshua Primo, F, Alabama
  • Isaiah Todd, PF, G League Ignite
  • Keon Johnson, SG, Tennessee’

Based on mock drafts from people who talk with NBA decision-makers, it’s possible the Wizards end up with a top-ten player like Kispert or Moody at 15. There may also be an opportunity to buy a second rounder to get someone YODA says is a first round value like Ayayi, Petrusev or possibly Butler or McBride.

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.