Are you watching the NBA Finals?
Are you watching them and thinking about what they might mean for this year’s draft?
We’re in a little bit of a weird place, right? The consensus top three players are fours and fives, but all the value is in big wings. Unlike a year ago, there isn’t an easy pathway to sorting out the top of the draft based on positional value. That ballhandling, playmaking 6-foot-7 wing every team craves isn’t out there at the top of this draft, which takes place June 23. Maybe a Cade Cunningham or Scottie Barnes is hiding in the weeds, but if so, it’s much less obvious this time around.
Similarly, we have some good bigs in this draft, but we don’t have an Evan Mobley type, whose switchability is so obvious that it would allay concerns about the decreasing value of centers in the postseason. Conversely, in a world where either having a P.J. Tucker-type body or just being a 6-6 guy who doesn’t suck has exponentially more value in the games that matter most, a lot of energy must necessarily tilt toward finding those types of players in the draft.
The top three players in this draft are bigs, with one being a true rim-protecting five. At least two other traditional centers are on every lottery board, and if you made a consensus mock draft right now, you’d see a generous sprinkling of players shorter than 6-5 as well. With centers in particular, we run into issues of diminishing returns. You can play one center, but never more; meanwhile, you can play as many 6-7 guys as you want in today’s NBA, provided at least one of them can dribble.
Despite that, teams continue to overvalue taking big centers at the top of the draft. We’ve had 18 centers drafted in the top six picks since 2002; only three of them have played in an All-Star Game, and in the case of Chris Kaman, we’re defining this term extremely broadly. Should Mobley and Deandre Ayton eventually make it, we’ll be at five. Woohoo.
Mobley proves the exception to the rule — a 7-foot center who plays as a perimeter player, particularly on defense. Meanwhile the best offensive center in the league (Nikola Jokić) was picked 46th, the best defensive center (Rudy Gobert) was picked 27th, and this year’s other 7-foot All-Stars (Jarrett Allen and Joel Embiid) were picked 22nd and third respectively.
On the flip side, we’ve had a perimeter All-Star selected in the top five of every draft since 2010, if we assume one of Cunningham or Barnes breaks through soon. And we’re on a stretch of 20 straight drafts in the top six. A couple of them stretch the definition of “All-Star” a bit (Andrew Wiggins was voted in, and Devin Harris and D’Angelo Russell each made it once), but most were legit.
Overall, we’re talking about 27 All-Star perimeter players from 19 drafts, and 23 of them were no-doubt-about-it, All-Star-caliber players. Despite the zest for size at the top of the draft, most of these stars weren’t that big; only Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram were taller than 6-7.
So … do you want to pick from the bin that provided 27 All-Stars or the bin that gave us three?
I bring this up for two fairly obvious reasons. First, I think teams are still guilty of overdrafting centers — James Wiseman, Mo Bamba, Dragan Bender and Jahlil Okafor would be recent examples. Second, the consensus top three players in this particular class are all bigs, with perhaps the most highly touted one a 7-1 center.
So here’s the question … is Chet Holmgren (or Jabari Smith or Paolo Banchero) such an advantage at their positions that you’d prefer taking them to the chance of getting an All-Star perimeter player?
The flip side of this, of course, is what All-Star perimeter player? Have you been scouting some other NCAA, Hollinger? Teams would feel better about following my big-shunning strategy if there were wart-free wing options. This is, perhaps, not that kind of draft. Particularly in that sweet spot around 6-6 or 6-7, the talent pool is not safe for diving.
Wait, it gets worse. Two other issues underlie this year’s draft. First, this is one of the worst international draft classes in memory. Only two players have a realistic chance of going in the top 20, and neither played well even in relatively weak overseas leagues. Second, there is an absolutely staggering number of meh shooting guards for teams to sort through. We may set some kind of record for 6-4 guys who end up in France; several of them have been getting lottery buzz, for some reason, but I don’t have more than a couple in my top 20.
Nonetheless, teams must press on with the task of selecting the best talent and determining the best positional fits. And there is actually talent in this draft; it was harder to winnow my list down to 20 or so than I expected. It’s just hiding in some different places than you might have originally expected.
As is my recent pattern, I revealed my top 23 (with three sleepers included!) just after the lottery in May and saved the rest of my top 75 for now, when we know for sure who is staying in the draft.
Here’s how my board looks:
Tier 1: The two biggest fish in a medium-size pond
1. Jabari Smith Jr. | 6-10 freshman | PF | Auburn
Smith is an unusual player for a top overall pick because he didn’t always dominate games athletically. He had unusually low rates of rebounds, blocks and steals for a prospect of this caliber and shot just 43.9 percent on 2s in SEC games. (Reminder: I often rely on stats in conference games because they winnow out the early-season joke games against St. Leo’s and Incarnate Word.)
So what’s the case for Smith? Let’s start with his jumper, which is just smooth as butter. Smith might have the best shooting form of any prospect I’ve evaluated since Michael Porter Jr. launching perfect parabolas toward the rim and having the footwork to get into this stroke during live play. At a legit 6-10, Smith can rise over anybody and launch, providing something of an offensive cheat code that should set up the rest of his game as he develops.
Meanwhile, his athletic gifts are also pretty significant. Some of his defensive clips had me cackling, yelling, “Noooooo don’t do it!” at my monitor while some rando college guard decided to try his luck isoing Smith off the dribble.
Smith can slide his feet like a guard, plus his length allows him to play a half step farther off dribblers and cut off any driving angles. He sometimes gives a little too much cushion and will need to play closer in the pros, but his switchability at the pro level seems rock solid. He also rarely gets faked off his feet, a bugaboo for a lot of bigs who otherwise can hold up on switches. Quick, hard changes of direction occasionally leave him a step behind, but he also has the “catch-up” ability to get back in the play and block shots from behind.
With his body still filling out, Smith has a low post defense that’s maybe not quite as clinical. Opponents could duck in and get position, especially when Walker Kessler was off the floor and Smith had to play the five, and he didn’t contest their shots as aggressively as you might hope. Adding some muscle obviously will help here, but I’d be leery of playing him much at the five in the NBA until he adds more lower body strength.
Finally, there’s the age issue. With a May 2003 birthdate, Smith is six months younger than Banchero and a full year younger than Holmgren. He’s physically young too, as he’s still pretty clearly growing into his body. In a draft without a surefire future All-Star, he seems the one most likely to earn that honor.
2. Paolo Banchero | 6-10 freshman | PF | Duke
Prospect-wise, Banchero isn’t perfect. He’s not an elite athlete or a great defender, his arms are a bit short for a big, and his shooting stroke could stand to be more consistent (33.8 percent from 3 and 72.9 percent from the line). He’s a bit on the older side for a one-and-done, and his rates of steals and blocks are pretty sad for a lottery prospect.
OK, now that I’m done whining … Banchero is also an attacking, off-the-dribble shot creator at 6-10, and he’s not some shot-hunting pig either. He averaged an eye-opening 6.3 assists per 100 possessions last season, often acting as a de facto point guard for a Duke team that didn’t have a true lead guard. It’s pretty easy to envision a world in which he’s his team’s best or second-best offensive option, particularly if his line-drive outside shot gets a little more air under it and a bit more consistency.
Defensively, Banchero’s lack of length gives him issues contesting shots and protecting the rim, which might limit his utility as a small-ball five. Otherwise, I thought his tape was pretty good. His clips in isolation defense show a guy who is comfortable sliding his feet out on the perimeter, and he didn’t default to giving yards of space and allowing easy pull-up 3s the way some bigs do. In his best moments, he could play close enough to remove any pull-ups at all, like this:
Banchero seems to change direction pretty well, but in straight-line speed challenges he is vulnerable; little fast guys give him problems, but he can defend anyone two through four on the perimeter pretty capably.
Overall, he’s a fairly safe bet as a high-production four, one with plus offense and who can get to the point of being solid defensively.
Tier II: High ceilings, but more speculative
3. Jaden Ivey | 6-4 sophomore | SG | Purdue
Ivey is the one player in this draft who is most reminiscent of Ja Morant, with a blast-off first step that sends him rocketing toward the rim. It should be even more effective in the open space of the NBA versus a Purdue approach that was heavily geared toward entering the ball to its two behemoth post players.
Alas, the Morant comparisons break down once we get into the decision-making realm. Ivey barely averaged more assists than turnovers in Big Ten play; his good clips are ridiculous, but there is a lot of head-scratching chaff to work through before you get to that wheat. His shooting is also a question mark, with a below-the-shoulder set shot similar to Morant’s that yielded 32.2 percent from 3 and 73.98 percent from the line in his two years with the Boilermakers. Put simply, Ivey is going to be an offensive skill-development challenge for whatever team picks him, but the upside reward is an All-Star-caliber shot creator from the guard spot.
Defensively it’s a similar story. The physical toolset is there, but the application of those tools is a bit inconsistent. Ivey can get caught upright and blown by at times but doesn’t concede space and can still stay with dribblers. Opponents rarely went at him in isolation, perhaps because of the giant dude waiting in the paint behind him, but also because it didn’t look profitable the few times opponents tried. Ivey can slide his feet and explodes off the floor to challenge shots, sometimes surprising shooters who thought they had themselves a nice pull-up.
He needs the defensive output to be more consistent, especially if he’s juggling a prominent offensive role at the same time. The tape from his freshman year is actually even better, perhaps because less was being asked of him at the other end.
Overall, this is an eye-test call. Ivey’s college track record is wartier than you’d prefer for a pick this high, especially from a sophomore, but nobody else in this draft is in Ivey’s league as an off-the-dribble creative force.
4. Chet Holmgren | 7-1 freshman | C | Gonzaga
A lot of the concerns about Holmgren have to deal with his frame. At 7-1 and just 195 pounds, will he be more prone to injuries? Will he hold up to the pounding of a routine NBA game multiplied by 82? The visual is hard to ignore — he looks like somebody might break him in half — but I’m wondering if these worries are missing the real issue. Career-length issues for bigs are usually driven by lower extremity injuries; the fact that Holmgren’s light build puts less strain on his knees and ankles could end up being a major positive for his long-term durability.
The real thing to wonder about with Holmgren is whether drafting a 7-1 center in the top five makes any sense unless he’s basically guaranteed to play in the All-Star Game. Holmgren definitely has some huge positives — few bigs have shown as much juice off the dribble at a young age, his 3-point shot is already reliable enough to be a passable long-range floor spacer (39.0 percent from 3 as a freshman), and he finishes everything around the basket (73.7 percent on 2s).
Holmgren also controls the paint like few others, with an absurd 12.6 percent block rate and 28.7 percent defensive rebound rate. NBA teams still are skittish about playing zone, but Holmgren could be an awesome zone defender.
Three issues prevent him from ranking higher here. First, the skinny body really limits his ability to have any kind of post game. There is virtually no cost to switching a guard on him. He can shoot and handle a bit, but offensively, he’s trending toward Myles Turner.
Second, nobody talks about this, but Holmgren is a year older than most freshmen, with a May 2002 birthdate. For comparison, the next player on my board, Bennedict Mathurin, has played two years at Arizona but is a month younger than Holmgren.
Lastly, the defensive tape is perhaps not quite as awesome as the stats might make you believe, particularly in switch situations. The Synergy stats say he performed well against isolations, but several of those plays featured missed bunnies at the rim, and the sample is small enough that it matters. Holmgren typically gave up a driving lane to one side and then relied on his length to contest at the summit, but often didn’t get there in time.
Occasionally, it went worse than that, particularly against pro-caliber guards. Here Santa Clara’s Jalen Williams (an underrated prospect!) just flat-out drops him:
Care to see the movie again?
Holmgren held up much better when bigs tried to take him off the dribble in closer quarters; there just isn’t enough room to get away from his arms. Opponents will see his body and think they can mash him in the paint, but that is likely to be a horrible mistake that ends badly. His tentacles swallow up everything in the paint, and he could very well lead the league in blocks every year.
Because of that, and the talent gradient we’re about to hit, this is probably the best slot for Holmgren. I’m not a huge fan of drafting centers, as you can tell, but the risk-reward equation turns more positive after the first three names are off the board.
Tier III: Reliably solid wings
5. Bennedict Mathurin | 6-6 sophomore | SF | Arizona
One can argue it’s a reach to take Mathurin at No. 5, since it’s unlikely he’ll ever be the best player on his team. But because of his positional value and skill set, even his mid-tier scenarios make him a $20 million player in today’s NBA. Few players have more obvious 3-and-D utility than Mathurin, an athletic 6-6 Canadian of Haitian extraction who came through the NBA’s development academy in Mexico City. He’s still evolving into his game, but in two years at Arizona, he shot 38.7 percent from 3 and 78.9 percent from the line.
Mathurin still needs to tighten his handle and improve his feel, factors that could limit him from moving beyond a 3-and-D role at the next level, but his size and plus athleticism give him outs even if he never turns into a ballhandling wizard. Additionally, he doubled his assist rate as a sophomore at Arizona, showing visible progress as an on-ball creator.
Defensively, Mathurin might be more “solid” than true stopper. He’ll get into the ball but is not quite as fluid laterally as you might hope. He also can sit up in his stance at times, permitting blow-bys. More often, he’s able to stay solid and use his size and length to contest late, but he’s rarely an active disruptor on that end.
6. Shaedon Sharpe | 6-6 freshman | SG/SF | Kentucky
Teams have a lot of questions about Sharpe, questions that aren’t going to get answered by seeing him work out against a chair in Chicago at the combine. Why didn’t he play at all for Kentucky this year? How much did that set him back?
While teams comb through background parts and go back through his EYBL tape, the inevitably of the upside scenarios is what’s likely to see him chosen high. He could fail spectacularly, but the bar for this player archetype is pretty low as far as eventual success goes. Sharpe is 6-6 with a 6-11 wingspan and can really shoot; watching him work out on the floor before Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament game, I found it pretty clear he’ll be a viable NBA floor spacer from Day 1.
He’s also athletic enough that he was ranked as the top prospect in the Class of 2023 before reclassifying. How many guys like that, who also had elite shooting ability, have failed? Yes, there are questions about his feel and other, secondary lines of inquiry given that nobody has seen him play top-drawer competition. If he were a center or point guard, I’d have him several places lower. But a 6-6 wing who can shoot? Even if he “fails” in terms of achieving stardom, that still becomes a decent value proposition.
7. Keegan Murray | 6-8 sophomore | SF/PF | Iowa
Murray is probably the most head-scratching player in this draft. On the one hand, he’s a 6-8 forward who put up video-game stats in the Big Ten. Don’t overthink this, right? But on the other hand, he was a much older player (turning 22 in August, he’s the second-oldest player on my list today), and his tape isn’t quite as alluring as his stats. Murray is neither a high-wire athlete nor a knockdown shooter. He’s fine and all — 37.3 percent from 3 and 74.9 percent from the line in two years at Iowa — but it’s his all-around wiles as a scorer that provide his real value.
It’s fair to question how much daylight that part of his game will receive at the NBA level, because he doesn’t create easy separation and isn’t a great distributor.
Defensively, it’s more of the same. His size and length help him get hands on balls, but he’s not some elite stopper out there. He offers some secondary rim protection but didn’t always show great awareness, and his team’s defense was consistently its undoing. Murray has long arms and can slide his feet on the ball, so he should hold up decently enough against wings and fours.
What I get back to is that we’ve seen this movie before with guys like T.J. Warren and Cedric Ceballos — smooth forwards who lacked top-drawer athleticism but had crazy feel for scoring and finding buckets in the flow of the game. The league undervalues guys like this sometimes because they don’t have an easy box to slide into, but I’m pretty confident Murray can be a rotation forward at worst, and the upside is a 20-point scorer.
Tier IV: Let’s get crazy
Here’s where I suspect my draft board deviates pretty radically from the consensus. Partly, this is because the late lottery this year appears a bit soft in terms of surefire NBA talent, and partly, this is because I value certain things more than others. The one accelerated the other: If the talent curve is relatively flat, stylistic preferences inevitably matter more.
With that said, fasten your seat belts…
8. Jeremy Sochan | 6-9 freshman | PF | Baylor
A Polish citizen who grew up mostly in England, Sochan offers an alluring combination of present value and long-term upside as a high-energy forward with some shot-creation possibilities. Although he’s 6-9, Sochan can handle the ball and get to the cup with long strides and loosey-goosey quickness. He can make some decent reads as a passer, and he shot 60.7 percent inside the arc in Big 12 games. His shooting is more speculation but wasn’t as bad as the percentages make it seem (29.6 percent from 3, 58.9 percent from the line). His form needs work, but it’s not broken.
Sochan is better east and west than vertically; he’s quick, but he doesn’t pop off the floor. Relative to a player like Banchero, he offers more potential switchability and could even do work as a small-ball five as his body fills out. His tape against guards is very good, playing close enough that they can’t just walk into pull-ups, even contested ones, while still mostly holding his own when they tested his speed. Sochan leaves his feet too willingly and good crossovers sometimes leave him wobbly. He also had problems when dribblers got into his body, something that likely will become less problematic with more strength and experience.
Overall, we’re in a different area now in terms of risk-reward proposition. It’s possible Sochan is never anything more than an energy backup, but his upside scenarios are so tempting that he’s worth grabbing once my top seven names are off the board.
9. Dyson Daniels | 6-6 | SG | G League Elite
We’re getting into a type here in the late lottery: Guys with poor left-tail outcomes because of their shooting, but enough on the right tail to make them worth pursuing regardless. Daniels isn’t a freak athlete, shot 52.5 percent from the line and 27.3 percent from 3 in the G League and needs an hour and a half to uncork his outside shot.
I’m a big fan anyway. Few players I saw this year were more obviously about the right things than Daniels; even as his teammates with Elite did whatever the hell it was they were doing, he was very consciously trying to play the right way, hit the open man and compete on defense. He guarded every opponent’s best player and was good at it, with size, competitiveness and anticipation for steals. He has a point guard’s handle and is a plus passer. While he isn’t an above-the-rim athlete, he’s able to finish in transition and draw fouls in the lane.
An Australian who is the same age as this year’s one-and-dones, Daniels came away with a statistical projection from his G League season that should be pretty positive: He averaged nearly two assists for every turnover, shot 54.9 percent inside the arc, had an 11.0 percent rebound rate from the guard spot and had high rates of steals and blocks. Some scouts I talked to compare him to Memphis’ Kyle Anderson in terms of an iffy shooter who can impact the game despite not being an elite athlete, but Daniels has more high-end outcomes than that because there is still time for his shot to come around.
10. Josh Minott | 6-8 freshman | SF/PF | Memphis
Jalen Duren and, to a lesser extent, Emoni Bates got a lot of the attention on Memphis this year, while Minott saw his role fluctuate wildly, and he was hardly playing by the end of the year. Minott is also a bad shooter (2 of 14 on 3s in 2021-22) and will be 19 1/2 on draft day, making him a bit old for a freshman.
And yet … the analytics on Minott are really impressive, with a sky-high steal rate of a big forward (3.6 per 100 possessions in AAC play), a positive assist-turnover rate and a 14.4 percent rebound rate despite often paying next to a lottery center. History says it would be folly to ignore a player who passes this deftly and gets his hand on this many balls at the defensive end. Even the shooting has some promise — he hit 75.4 percent from the line. It’s not like he was an empty offensive force either, scoring a very respectable 25.3 points per 100 possessions. He didn’t play much, but when he did, he was quite effective.
Defensively, Minott can be tight-hipped and slow with his first slide, and a bit over-reliant on using his hands to compensate for it. He also picks up a lot of fouls that way, part of his insane foul rate (6.2 per 100 possessions).
That said, Minott probably plays closer to the dribbler of any other player I saw in this size class, which is notable — players tell on themselves by how much cushion they give the dribbler. Minott has tremendous hands and long arms and legs; he uses the former to flick the ball from unsuspecting dribblers, and the latter to make up ground if he’s initially beat. Minott goes for the ball a bit too often, a high-risk strategy that can leave an open downhill run if it fails, and because he’s thin and has a high center of gravity, he can pick up fouls when opponents get into his body or spin off him.
11. Blake Wesley | 6-5 freshman | SG | Notre Dame
This is purely an upside play — there’s a chance Wesley ends up being terrible if his shooting and finishing don’t progress. It’s still worth taking Wesley here because his first-step quickness and lateral mobility provide a framework for some elite two-way outcomes … if he can just figure out how to shoot and make a layup. In this draft class, only Ivey can surpass Wesley’s explosiveness getting downhill to the rim, something that should be a much greater weapon at the NBA level.
Wesley’s offensive stats from his one season are a tad underwhelming. While he scored in volume (29.8 points per 100 possessions), he shot 47.1 percent from the arc, 30.3 percent on 3s and 65.7 percent from the line and barely had more assists than turnovers. Yikes. He’ll benefit from the more open space of the NBA floor, but there’s a lot to clean up here.
Where I feel better about Wesley is on the defensive end. He can move his feet laterally, contest shots and had an impressive steal rate (2.8 thefts per 100 possessions). You’d like to see him get into the ball a little bit more on the perimeter and concede fewer pull-ups, but he’s long and bouncy enough to bother players when they rise up. Bizarrely, he only blocked two shots all season — another sign he may be leaving some money on the table at that end.
As a result, I see two outs for success here: first as a downhill shot creator and second as a wing defensive stopper. Hit on both, and you’ve really got something. I initially had Wesley ranked lower but comparing his best-case scenarios with the less intriguing upside scenarios that follow, I had to move him up the list even if there’s a decent chance he bombs because of his offense.
Tier V: Relatively safer and less spectacular
12. Jalen Duren | 6-11 freshman | C | Memphis
How much do you value having a decent center with some upside? I like Duren quite a bit but struggled with where to place him on my board because he’s a one-position player at the least valuable position, and chances are he’ll never stretch his game out to the 3-point line.
I’m extremely confident Duren can be a rotation center for a decade; how far beyond that he can get is a very open question. Is there enough rim running and shot blocking to be a legit starter? You wouldn’t trade a lottery pick for a backup five, so the answer to this has to at least be a “maybe” to rank him here.
Nonetheless, Duren packs some real positives. He was an impactful college player even as a young freshman, he has a 7-5 wingspan and a solid enough frame to be a plus defender and rim-runner, and he made some notably good passes for a player of this ilk. He disappointed a bit as a rim protector, however; 3.9 blocks per 100 in the American Conference is fine but not exactly Holmgren territory, and he doesn’t explode off the floor on shot challenges the way you might like from an interior presence.
Memphis also switched him a lot and was clearly very comfortable with him defending on the perimeter, even against very small guards. I’d describe his feet as more “good” than “great;” he can be a little slow at times and at others had to give up excessive cushion to feel like he could keep in front. The biggest barrier for him is just that the bar for “switchable big” in the NBA is getting so darned high, especially as we get deeper into the postseason. He’s good enough to get there though.
13. A.J. Griffin | 6-6 freshman | SG | Duke
Griffin is 6-6 with a 7-foot wingspan and shot 44.7 percent from 3 on relatively high volume last year, which will be the press release summary from the team that picks him. That might have you thinking “3-and-D!” But let’s stop the presses on the D part.
Griffin’s defensive tape is … not good. He may have to play four, even at 6-6, because he has decent strength but his feet are stuck in concrete. He is very slow sliding his feet and reacting to an opponent’s first move and had absolutely no chance checking quick guards.
Going through his tape, I found it one thing to see ACC Player of the Year Alondes Williams cook him on a straight-line drive; when a random dude from Army did the same thing, that’s when the red flags really started flapping in the wind. Griffin’s indicator stats aren’t great either, with a pathetic steal rate for a wing (just 1.1 per 100 possessions in ACC play).
Offensively, he didn’t impress when he put it on the floor, but the threat of his shot does open lanes for him pretty easily and widen his margin for error. Also, did I mention his shooting? Griffin has a low release point but moves to get himself open and can knock down catch-and-shoots from a variety of platforms. I don’t see him being a guy who can come flying off screens locked-and-loaded, but he’s an elite catch-and-shoot threat from Day 1. That gives him value even if he struggles at the other end, and at just 19, there’s at least a shred of hope he can keep improving the defense.
14. TyTy Washington |6-3 freshman | PG | Kentucky
There’s an upside scenario that you have to think about with Washington, which is that John Calipari has a history of making guards look very ordinary, only to see them blow up when they get to the NBA. Devin Booker, Tyler Herro and Tyrese Maxey all come to mind. Is Washington another?
Maybe. He had a really good stretch in midseason before suffering an ankle injury against Florida, showing the ability to run the offense at 6-3, get to floaters and make the right decisions. There was nothing electrifying about it, and his push shot from the perimeter (35.0 percent from 3, 75.0 percent from the line) isn’t wowing anybody either, but he was low-key pretty darn efficient.
Defensively, Washington had a high steal rate and has the awareness to do some neat, subtle things; he’ll tilt his torso and arms diagonally while coming around screens to take away pocket passes, for instance. He’s not a suffocating defender overall, and for some reason seems to move much better to his left than to his right. Maybe it’s random, but he gave up a lot of blow-bys on that side.
All this probably adds more up to a solid third guard than anything special, especially since Washington was unusually old for a freshman and turns 21 in November. (He’s nearly the same age as Duke junior Wendell Moore, for example.)
15. Kendall Brown | 6-8 freshman | SF | Baylor
Brown may not provide enough offensively to be a starting-caliber player, but his odds of having a legit career seem pretty high because he’s 6-8, can pass and run and guard multiple positions. Guys like that fit in somewhere unless they’re complete disasters from the perimeter. In a league where 6-8 forwards who don’t suck become central pieces of the playoff rotation, he will have value.
Brown certainly gives some concern on offense. He shot 34.3 percent from 3 on extremely low volume and 67.3 percent from the line in his one season at Baylor — but his other indicator stats are halfway decent. He shot 63.8 percent inside the arc, scored at a respectable clip and showed halfway decent feel — his mistakes were often trying passes that were just beyond his level, but his feel didn’t seem deficient. In transition, he was good.
Defensively, Brown doesn’t have super long arms but his height and leaping allow him to get great contests on pull-up jump shooters, plus he seems to have pretty good intuition for exactly how much room to give while still being in position to bother the shot. He had a good steal rate with anticipation off the ball, but against dribblers, he isn’t a guy who impacts the ball much; he tries more to stay solid and keep the ball in front, and does a good job of it. Fast guards with enough runway could beat him with straight-line speed, but you’ll live with that from a combo forward.
Finally, Brown is only 19 with a prototype body for an NBA forward, so we shouldn’t dismiss upside scenarios out of hand here. I feel like he’s getting a bit forgotten because he’s no longer a “hot” name, but it’s not crazy to think he could go in the late lottery.
16. Tari Eason | 6-7 sophomore | SF | LSU
I have a sneaking suspicion that Eason’s wildness is going to work against him and cause him to slip in the draft; teams may have trouble sticking a fork into a defined role for him. Eason is a big wing with a solid frame who can guard anything from one to four, a disruptive defender whose rates of “stocks” are almost Matisse Thybulle-esque (4.5 steals and 2.5 blocks per 100 in SEC play, nearly matching what Thybulle did in the Pac 12 at the same age).
Wait, there’s more. He’s also an absurdly good rebounder for his size (15.7 rebound rate in the SEC!) and scored easily and efficiently last season. He shot 56.4 percent inside the arc with a massive free-throw rate, made 80.3 percent from the line and even hit 35.9 percent from 3 despite a funky-looking slingshot release that teams aren’t totally sure will translate to the pros. Did I mention he averaged 39.4 points per 100 possessions and had a 34.5 PER in the SEC?
So why is he down here and not in the top five? Because it’s not clear what he did — basically, putting his head down and burrowing to the rim regardless of the situation — has any utility at the next level. Eason isn’t passing — he had two turnovers for every assist, not to mention about 15 true shot attempts — and a lot of his best moments came in transition. If you don’t believe in the shooting, he may not have a role in a half-court offense; given that the previous season at Cincinnati he shot 24.1 percent from 3 and 57.4 percent from the line, this is a realistic fear.
Defensively, he is really good laterally, definitely in the top tier in this draft class. Even small guards had all kinds of trouble turning the corner against him. He has a tendency to rise up out of his stance at times, which can leave him vulnerable to a good hesi move.
However, the same pattern of overaggression bordering on recklessness that marked his offense also was his undoing on defense. Eason committed a whopping 7.7 fouls per 100 possessions in SEC play and had a particularly bad habit of crash-landing into 3-point shooters while challenging shots.
Finally, Eason is a bit older than some of the other players on this list, which is why I put guys like Brown and Griffin ahead of him.
At this point in the draft though, I think his athleticism has to win out. Eason is clearly an NBA athlete and fits a size profile that is constantly sought throughout the league. If he even gets to the 25th percentile as a half-court offensive player, his transition, rebounding and defense will make him a valuable performer.
17. E.J. Liddell | 6-7 junior | PF | Ohio State
I’m a bit higher on Liddell than most, just because I can’t help thinking that he’s so darn smart that he’s going to figure this out one way or another. Watching him defend against guards is a good example; even though he’s at a speed disadvantage, he plays just close enough to stop them from walking into pull-up jumpers and forces them to dribble into his help.
For instance, here’s Wisconsin Johnny Davis trying to get a pull-up on him:
That IQ translates to other facets, such as his timing for off-ball shot blocks that made him an elite college rim protector despite being 6-7 with average leaping ability. Seemingly every time I watch an Ohio State game, I see Liddell do some random, clever thing that you don’t normally see from college players.
Liddell added the 3-ball to his repertoire this season, knocking down 37.4 percent on decent volume, and has become a very good pull-up shooter. Despite lacking crazy hops and a deceptive handle, he drew a ton of fouls; his strength obviously helps here and should acquit him well against fours and fives at the NBA level.
Overall, you’d like him to be quicker laterally, especially with his first defensive slide, where now he can look stuck in concrete at times, and you question how much of his offensive game translates to the next level. Nonetheless, I’m buying him as a 3-and-D combo forward who can be effective in a variety of lineups.
18. Dalen Terry | 6-7 sophomore | SF | Arizona
Here’s a name you maybe weren’t expecting. Terry is still on the fence about whether to stay in the draft, but I have him rated as a first-rounder if he stays because of his ability to handle the ball, defend multiple positions and … hopefully … shoot? Terry’s stroke isn’t overtly terrible — he made 35.0 percent from 3 on low volume and 68.0 percent from the line across his two seasons at Arizona — but he’ll need to be a more persistent perimeter threat as a pro.
The good news is tall wings who can handle the ball and defend almost always find themselves in an NBA rotation, even if they aren’t high-wire athletes or electrifying scorers. Terry operated as Arizona’s de facto point guard this year, handing out nearly three assists for every turnover, while on the defensive end he ripped 2.5 steals per 100 possessions. One would have liked to see him play a more prominent and aggressive scoring role; between Mathurin (above) and Arizona’s two quality big men, at times one could forget Terry was on the floor.
The tape shows a defender who is more “good” than “remarkable.” Some of his best stuff came against smaller players, where he could give a bit more cushion with his length but still had the quickness to keep the play in front of him. Against bigger players, he gave the same cushion but couldn’t affect the shot as well, and he shuns physicality a bit because of his skinny frame.
19. Mark Williams | 7-0 sophomore | C | Duke
In a word, thwack! Williams’ 7-7 wingspan makes him the top rim-protection prospect in this draft; Auburn’s Walker Kessler blocked more shots but also got cooked a lot more often, whereas Williams never got out over his skis hunting blocks and forced opponents to play over the top of him.
Those who dared to challenge him at the summit suffered unfortunate outcomes. Kevin McCullar, meet Mark Williams:
Of course, the big question with Williams is what can he do on the offensive end. His 72.7 percent mark from the line offers some optimism that he can make 15-footers consistently, but he rarely posted up and wasn’t a big part of elbow or high post actions.
The biggest reason to be down on Williams, again, is just his position. Even if you feel pretty good about him carving out a 10-year career as a backup center, that’s not enough value to take him in the top 20. His shot blocking, physical tools and short-range shooting touch offer realistic upside as a starter, however, and that would be the selling point for sliding him into my top 20 here.
20. Jake LaRavia | 6-9 junior | PF | Wake Forest
I originally had LaRavia in my “sleepers” section, but so many people have moved him up their draft boards lately that I feel like I’m not even ahead of the average on him anymore.
LaRavia is a relatively young junior, an unknown who transferred from Indiana State before the season and then blew up for the Demon Deacons. While his teammate Williams won ACC Player of the Year, I’m more encouraged by the pro prospects of LaRavia.
Defensively, in particular, he shows multi-positional potential. He has size and strength but also had the feet to comfortably stay with guards. His strong lower body and good balance help him pester dribblers without overcommitting or getting pushed off stride. He rarely fouls but has active hands that swiped 2.7 steals per 100 possessions and is able to challenge shots without flying into shooters. Few players I saw on tape were more adept at forcing dribblers to beat them with contested 2s. There may be some quickness limitations that show against NBA athletes, but in the ACC, they switched him against everybody and he aced the test.
LaRavia’s shooting will be another topic of discussion, as he hit 38.4 percent this season but on very low volume. Career marks of 37.1 percent from 3 and 74.3 percent from the line should ease some concerns here. LaRavia checks out in other respects, as he’s a good passer and hit 61.6 percent of his shots inside the arc. Nitpickers will also note he’s not a great rebounder.
Tier VI: My three sleeper shooting guards
21. Ryan Rollins | 6-4 sophomore | SG | Toledo
In a sea of blah shooting guard prospects after Ivey and Wesley, Rollins is the one at whom I’d take the first crack. He won’t turn 20 until July and was the best player in the Mid-American Conference, and his weaknesses (3-point shooting, on-ball defense) are the type of things that seem fixable in a development program. With high rates of steals and rebounds, nearly two dimes for every turnover and a 53.6 percent mark inside the arc, he checks a lot of boxes in categories that correlate with pro success.
I originally had him much higher than this, but his defensive tape was a crushing disappointment. As I noted above, players tell on themselves by how far off the ballhandler they play; the more comfortable they are with their own lateral quickness, the closer they guard the ball. (As a human traffic cone back in the day, I perhaps internalized this lesson more than most.)
Rollins concedes acres of space, frequently allowing no-dribble 3s from the triple threat position, and yet had a lot of trouble beating his man to the spot and cutting off penetration. If this was happening in the MAC, one shudders to think what NBA guards might do to him one-on-one. Rollins’ athletic indicators and plus feel make one think this is fixable, but there’s a chance he’s just so flammable on defense that he can’t stay on the court.
22. Wendell Moore | 6-5 junior | SG | Duke
Moore kind of got lost as scouts focused on Banchero and Williams at Duke, and he played a more limited role on a talented offensive squad. However, he had a good junior year and won’t turn 21 until September, and his ability to pass, defend, make open shots and score in the open court all make him a strong candidate to become a plus role player as a pro.
Moore could likely stand to improve his finishing and overall scoring package inside the 3-point line, but his rates of rebounds, assists and steals all are among the best of any shooting guard prospect this year, and those indicators usually point toward pro success more than scoring averages. Additionally, he shot 41.3 percent from 3 and 81.5 percent from the line and usually guarded the opponent’s best player. The 3-and-D archetype is pretty clearly there, and in a fairly athletic package that might be able to go up another notch with some conditioning gains.
He has enough length and leaping ability to alter shots when he goes up to contest them, and when he did get beat off the dribble, he had a good chase-down gear to block opponents from behind. He can get a little upright, and it looked like he was trying a bit too hard to avoid fouling; changes of direction also sometimes sent him veering into a ditch. It seems he’s more likely to get picked in the second round, but he has starter upside to go with a pretty high floor.
23. Jalen Williams | 6-6 junior | SG | Santa Clara
Scouts I talked to have pretty openly admitted Williams was underscouted during the season, a classic Bad Geography Guy in the far-flung West Coast Conference. Even if scouts happened to be in the Bay Area, chances are they weren’t driving the extra hour to Santa Clara when so much other scoutable action was at hand. Now that teams are doing their film work, he’s a guy everyone is doubling back to watch.
Williams was one of the best players in a vastly improved WCC this season, a huge, solidly built point guard at 6-6 who is likely to play the wing at the next level. Williams offers a plus secondary ballhandler who can run the offense in a pinch, and if you buy his shooting development (39.6 percent from 3 this year and 80.9 percent from the line), that’s a very helpful weakside offensive player.
Defensively, Williams would likely benefit from a move to the wing. He has size and mostly opted to stay solid against opposing point guards, but he wasn’t capable of pressuring smaller players into mistakes and mostly opted for low-risk containment strategies. He can be a little stiff, and even WCC guards weren’t afraid of taking him on; he might do better sizing up rather than down, as he seemed more comfortable getting into the body of bigger players closer to the rim.
Williams also isn’t a great athlete, so teams would be buying more on size, skill and feel. But as noted above, he had the moves to fake top prospects like Holmgren out of their shoes and is rapidly losing his “sleeper” status as the league does its homework on him.
Tier VII: The upside plays
24. Ousmane Dieng | 6-8 | SF | New Zealand Breakers
That “6-8” is an estimate and might be on the low side, since Dieng didn’t do measurements at the combine.
There is a lot of reason to be skeptical about Dieng. Historically, players who have struggled in Australia have, not shockingly, also struggled in the NBA. Probably the closest comp would be R.J. Hampton, who was picked in the 20s two years ago after a blah season in Australia and has yet to establish himself as a rotation-caliber player in the pros. Hampton’s season was actually quite a bit better than Dieng’s, though. The argument can be made that Dieng is not very athletic, not much of a shooter and doesn’t have notably good feel … so, um, what exactly is he?
The retort is that he’s a big long wing with a guard’s handle, one who can possibly become another Nic Batum or more … even if he often looks more like another Isaac Bonga. Dieng can use his combo of handle and length pretty effectively and got more adventurous with it as his season went on Down Under. While he was disastrously bad for much of the year, his splits over the final month tell a tale of solid improvement.
Dieng is also one of the youngest players in the draft at 19. While I wouldn’t select him over any of my top 23 players, at this point in the draft, hitting on a giant wing who can dribble seems significantly more valuable than the return anywhere else.
25. Malaki Branham | 6-4 freshman | SG | Ohio State
The draft world tends to over-index on bucket-getting when the more telling information for NBA purposes is in every other column of the stat sheet. Branham fares poorly in almost all of those areas, which is why it’s tough to put him in my top 20.
That said … he can score, and that may translate enough to offset his other weaknesses. Branham scored 30.8 points per 100 possessions in Big Ten games as a freshman, and did it efficiently (62.8 true shooting percentage). He displayed a believable jump shot (41.3 percent from 3 on low-ish volume, 83.3 percent from the line and heaps of pull-ups) and the size and length to hit shots over defenders.
He’ll need to score because Branham’s defensive clips are … not great. While his size and length package should theoretically make him a defensive obstacle, his slides were notably slow and opposing dribblers had a pretty easy time turning the corner against him. He also wasn’t a disruptive or anticipatory defender, with a pretty shockingly low steal rate for a first-round guard prospect.
Nonetheless, a guard with his size and shooting ability has relatively abundant pathways to becoming somewhat useful, and there’s at least some upside here that he blasts off as a scorer. I think the odds on that package are overrated at the moment, but I’d rate Branham as a better prospect than, say, Cam Thomas a year ago, and think he’s a worthy gamble in the 20s.
26. Kennedy Chandler | 6-0 freshman | PG | Tennessee
It’s weird to label a 6-0 guard an “upside play,” but the echo chamber on Chandler that he’s just a backup point guard kind of glides past an important question: What if he’s not? Chandler is small, and that will be a problem at the next level, but unlike some other small guards of recent vintage, his defense is an undeniable strength. He’s a handsy defender who pilfered an eye-opening 4.1 steals per 100 possessions in SEC games, and he surprises shooters with his ability to leap and contest shots.
Weirdly, his biggest weakness on defense might just be his lateral movement. He makes an effort to get into the ball and makes sure to force dribblers to beat him into the paint rather than rising up over him for a jumper .. but the first slide is beatable, and because he has to crowd dribblers, they can get a step on him surprisingly often.
Offensively, Chandler’s stroke doesn’t look broken but he still needs to shoot the ball better (60.6 percent from the line — yuck), and he had moments as a shot creator where he had trouble getting separation. Nonetheless, he’s a good passer, plays well in transition and seems likely to benefit from playing in the NBA’s more open floor. That he was one of the best players in the SEC as a 19-year-old is a pretty strong data point in his favor, as was his stellar steal rate (often a great indicator stat for college to pro success).
27. Justin Lewis | 6-6 sophomore | SF | Marquette
Lewis can be frustrating at times: A little too chilled out on defense, a little too jump-shot dependent on offense. I just can’t see how I could rank him any lower than this. He’s 6-6 with an enormous 7-2 wingspan, has a strong frame that should allow him to play four in almost any matchup if his team wants to size down, and he had a 32.5-inch standing vertical.
The basketball stuff went OK too. Lewis shot decently and on relatively high volume, and is very comfortable shooting off the dribble against smaller defenders. He rebounds well and can be a very good defender when in a stance and engaged.
The big thing that puts him at the tail end of my first-round grades, however, is that every team needs switchable forwards who can make an open shot. Lewis doesn’t even need to get that much better to fill in a back-end rotation spot, and he has upside to be quite a bit better.
28. Julian Champagnie | 6-6 junior | SF | St. John’s
Here’s one you probably weren’t expecting. Champagnie isn’t getting much first-round buzz, but I think he’s a name teams need to consider outside the lottery. Champagnie has a bit of a thin frame and can become a little too enamored of jab-step jump shots, something he converts at a respectable rate (34.8 percent from 3 for his career) but maybe that shouldn’t be the focal point of his game. He played a bit as a volume scorer for a weak St. John’s team, but that won’t be his role as a pro.
Instead, Champagnie profiles as a 3-and-D guy who can provide some juice as a secondary rim protector and disruptor. On the ball he likes to get into dribblers, even smaller ones, and used his length and anticipation to nab 3.1 steals per 100 possessions. That was slightly juiced by St. John’s use of pressing defenses, yes, but he’ll pressure the ball even against smaller players and is capable of blocking his own man’s shot. Sometimes that gets him beat — good crossovers leave him grasping for air — but I think he’ll be able to stay with NBA wings.
Tier VIII: Soooo many shooting guards
29. Johnny Davis | 6-4 sophomore | SG | Wisconsin
The high-lottery hype for Davis earlier in the year seemed excessive. He was arguably the best player in the Big Ten this year and still fairly young, but beyond that, there are legit questions about how what he does translates to the next level. An excessive reliance on tough shot making and pull-up 2s reveal some refinements that will be helpful at the next level … and a worry about the lack of easy baskets and the iffy jump shot. Davis shot 30.6 percent from 3 and 79.1 percent from the line this season, and the eye test on his jumper is that it starts breaking down the farther from the basket he gets, especially when he has to shoot off the catch.
Davis earns kudos defensively because he competes, fights through screens, rebounds at a high rate and can jump. I’m worried about his feet, though, and that’s the most important piece. He was able to bail himself out at times by using his leaping ability to get challenges on shots where he was beaten to the spot, but he was a step slow laterally. The tape showed plays where even non-prospects were able to turn the corner against him, and he told on himself a bit with the amount of cushion he needed to give to offset his feet.
Overall, he’s still probably the best bet in a sea of blah shooting guards at this point in the draft, with decent odds of becoming a rotation-caliber player and some starter upside if all his midrange stuff translates. But apparently, I have a much harder time getting excited about him than my peers.
30. Trevor Keels | 6-3 freshman | SG | Duke
Keels is built like a tank, had a reasonably good freshman year that included a high steal rate, and his biggest weakness (shooting) is the one thing that is most fixable at the NBA level. He made 31.2 percent from 3 and 69.3 percent from the line, but I wouldn’t say his shot is broken. However, he isn’t a natural distributor either; his assist-turnover ratio from his freshman season reflects that he spent some time at the point, but once he heads to the cup he’s thinking shot. Keels also isn’t a great leaper, relying a little too much on beastball around the basket, and one wonders how that will translate as a pro.
Keels is getting some love for his defense in other descriptions I’ve seen, and I’ve gotta say … I must have been out of town for those games. Keels has a strong body, but I’m not sure he can stay in front of anyone at the next level. He didn’t really get into the ball but still gave up a ton of straight-line drives and wasn’t great at contesting shots at the end of the play either.
That said, let’s not get lost in the weeds here. He doesn’t turn 19 until August and turned in a very solid season as a starter in the ACC. He has a chance, especially if the shooting improves. Also, the Ethan Strauss Memorial Fat Is Potential In Disguise (FIPID) factor comes into play here, as Keels measured with 13.5 percent body fat at the combine.
31. Christian Braun | 6-6 junior | SG | Kansas
Kansas won the national title and Ochai Abgaji was its star, but of the team’s draftable wings I actually like Braun a bit better. He’s not the shooter or scorer Agbaji is, but is bigger and younger, and pops off the floor athletically. Kansas played a conservative defensive scheme so he wasn’t heating up the ball a lot, but he’s very good at challenging shots and even blocking jump shots. At 6-6, he could slot up to the three at times.
Braun can’t rank higher because his shot isn’t completely trustworthy, a low-released push that could use more air under it. He shot 38.6 percent from 3 this past season but on low volume; he’s not letting it rip unless it’s an open catch-and-shoot. He also isn’t the most instinctive or polished finishers around the basket. He’s better in transition, where he can use his athleticism more easily, and he passes willingly. Between all that, he has a decent chance of becoming a rotation-caliber wing with enough size to play some three.
32. Dereon Seabron | 6-5 sophomore | SG | NC State
I think everyone is sleeping on this guy a bit. There are reasons to doubt him: He only measured 6-5, he shot 25.4 percent from 3 and 69.4 percent from the line in two college seasons, he’s just OK as a passer, and he blocked four shots all of last season.
With all that said … the ability to get to the rim on your own steam in the halfcourt is a pretty important skill, and Seabron has it. His college tape is him getting to the cup with either hand and using long strides to finish at the rim, over and over and over again, and he did the same thing at the combine. His team will need to trust putting the ball in his hands because he’s not spacing the floor, but he can be a plus creator if he develops any kind of shot at all.
Seabron’s defensive tape is pretty good too. He has good size but still will get up on guards, and he rudely dispossesses weaker players. NC State felt confident enough to leave him on an island against Purdue‘s Jaden Ivey, which was probably a stretch; Seabron can be beaten laterally and needs to take better angles, but was a plus one-on-one defender in college who should be fine at that end as a pro.
33. Gabriele Procida | 6-6 | SG | Fortitudo Bologno
In an international field where nearly every alleged prospect for this draft spent the year trashing his draft stock with underwhelming performances in third-tier leagues, Procida stands out as the exception.
We can still nit-pick some things: The Italian League isn’t very good anymore, he wasn’t the best player on the team, etc. But Procida did put up solid numbers as a 20-year-old in a real pro league, and he’s a 6-6 wing with some athleticism (backed up by solid combine testing numbers) and consecutive seasons of shooting 38 percent from 3 under his belt. It’s not hard to see his pathway to NBA viability.
Procida will need to shoot the 3 better and more frequently to make the cut as an NBA sniper, but he’s not that far away and he can be an overseas stash for years if need be, making his selection a promising idea for such teams as the Grizzlies, Thunder and Spurs that are awash in extra draft picks and have some in the 20-35 range.
34. Ochai Agbaji | 6-5 senior | SG | Kansas
The defining case of this year’s shooting guard crop: A really, really good college player who doesn’t offer a lot of excitement for how his game might translate up. At the most basic level, he’s a 6-5 guard who can shoot 3s and won’t beat himself, so getting to back-end-rotation-caliber usefulness wouldn’t be shocking. Anything beyond that would be gravy; there’s just not a lot in his profile that hints at that caliber of player.
In particular, the “indicator” stats of rebounds, assists and steals are all worryingly low for a guard, especially a senior. Despite a 6-10 wingspan, it was hard to find evidence of its use on the floor.
Agbaji can shoot, hitting 40.7 percent of his 3s in 2021-22 on high volume, but don’t get carried away: He’s also a 71.4 percent career foul shooter. As a creator off the dribble, I don’t see much, although he was able to get to pull-ups fairly effectively.
On defense, it’s a similar story. He’s not impactfully as far as getting hands on balls or flying out at shooters on shot contests, and he’s not capable of true ball pressure. However, he’s a good feet-slider who works hard to keep dribblers in front of him and plays angles and scouting reports; it was notable in the tape that he’d crowd some players much tighter than others based on their ability.
Overall, he’s a classic “won’t kill us” guy. But I’m not sure there’s much upside either.
Tier IX: The weirdos
35. Nikola Jović | 6-10 | PF| Mega Basket
It seems like everyone might have gotten out over their skis here. Jović is a 19-year-old forward with perimeter skills and big man size at 6-10, all of which paints an alluring package. He just started shooting 3s this year and made 31.5 percent of them, plus 71.8 percent from the line. Not Steph Curry, exactly, but a nice building point.
The problem is that he played in a not-particularly-great league and … wasn’t good. I’d be hard-pressed to name a player who posted stats this underwhelming in the Adriatic League who became anything of note. Other players from this league who became significant pros (Dario Sarić, Jusuf Nurkić, Nikola Jokić, Bogdan Bogdanović, etc.) were among the better players in this league pretty much immediately, and the NBA of the early 2010s was at a higher level than it is right now.
That doesn’t necessarily exclude Jović from success — players progress at different rates and sometimes they emerge from unexpected corners — but it does make betting on it a much iffier proposition.
36. Kenneth Lofton Jr. | 6-6 junior | PF | Louisiana Tech
The FIPID All-Star of this draft (see Trevor Keels above), Lofton measured at 280 pounds and 15.2 percent body fat at the combine … and people who’d seen him all year remarked on how much better his body looked.
Yes, he has a bit of work to do on that front. But even carrying around the extra tires, Lofton can play. He was arguably the best player at the G League Elite Camp and carried that over into a good game at the combine before shutting it down. In particular, he showed perimeter skill in those games that he didn’t get to display at Tech, where he played almost exclusively inside and only made four 3-pointers all year. He was beating defenders with long strides out of jab-and-go moves, making passes off the bounce and showed a soft touch in the paint.
I can’t rank him higher than this due to concerns about his defense. Lofton had decent rates of steals and blocks but is going to need to get in better shape to have a chance at guarding anyone along the perimeter. Nonetheless, I think he’s a great dart throw in the second round.
Lofton, incidentally, is not related to the former baseball star of the same name.
37. Walker Kessler | 7-0 sophomore | C | Auburn
Kessler is a legit 7-footer with a 7-4 wingspan, and he blocked everything in sight. A 19.1 percent block rate in the SEC? And 10.0 blocks per 100 possessions? Are you kidding me? Kessler can get to shots with his left or right hand, and sometimes got them with two hands. He wasn’t as comfortable defending in space but he was still pretty good and Auburn was clearly okay with him switching — the dribbler needs to clear a ton of space to get out of his flight path, but Kessler doesn’t change directions fluidly so sometimes he got cooked.
The more vexing part is finding an offense role for him. I don’t see a major threat as a rim runner, but that’s probably his best role; he also dabbled in 3-point shooting but only made 10 of his 50 attempts. Between that and the fact that he plays the least valuable position, it’s hard to get too excited about him in the top part of the board. But he is a freaky shot blocker, and that’s worth something.
38. Ziga Samar | 6-4 | SG/PG | Fuenlabrada
Ziga Samar and Huge Besson are the same age and (roughly) the same size. Samar played in the best domestic league outside the NBA (the Spanish ACB) and put together a pretty strong season, while Besson played in the Australian NBL (not nearly as strong) and was barely adequate. Somehow, Besson got first-round draft hype and an invite to the combine, while Samar was largely ignored.
Samar did keep his name in the draft, however, and hopefully teams have followed up with homework after the fact. It’s possible his shooting numbers this year are an outlier (47.1 percent from 3 this year on 51 attempts, after poor results in previous seasons), that his athletic limitations are too much for the NBA level, or that his rampant fouling torpedoes things (he averaged more than one every seven minutes this past season, which is pretty wild for a guard).
That said, it seems a little batty that a guy with a 7.1 Pure Point Rating in Spain would just get completely ignored like this. At worst, he’s one of the best stash options in the draft.
39. John Butler | 7-0 freshman | SF | Florida State
Are you feeling lucky? He’s 7 feet tall, 18 years old and he shot 39.3 percent from 3. He also made 11 free-throw attempts the entire season and is invisible when he turns sideways. Butler weighed in at an impossible-seeming 174 pounds at the combine, and surely filling him out will be part of any team’s project in taking him on.
Make no mistake, he is a project, but his 3-point shooting offers some pathways to having on-court viability while teams wait. Butler isn’t super athletic, and his motor and feel are both average at best, so there is a lot that has to happen here, but the end game of a 7-foot small forward may be too alluring to pass up in the 30s.
40. David Roddy | 6-5 junior | PF | Colorado State
Grant Williams and P.J. Tucker were the best things that ever happened to Roddy, giving teams a vision of how they might use his rare 255-pound frame and nearly 7-foot wingspan.
Like those two players, Roddy is strong, with thick legs and a wide chest, and knows how to use his frame. He can be a bit slow laterally but will use his strength to cut off angles without fouling; he’s not going to reach or hand check. Although short, Roddy is pretty good at exploding up to challenge shots and will surprise some guys. His lack of height becomes more problematic closer to the rim, where opposing post players could shoot over him with impunity.
Offensively, I’m a believer in Roddy’s catch-and-shoot game (he shot 43.8 percent from 3 this year on low volume, but having watched him warm up before Colorado State’s NCAA Tournament game, I can assure you it wasn’t a fluke). However, he doesn’t bring a lot else to the table right now, and that was on display during his struggles at the combine.
41. MarJon Beauchamp | 6-5 | PF | G League Ignite
Beauchamp has been the recipient of much first-round chatter, which I think is going a bit overboard for what projects to be an energy guy. Beauchamp shot 27.3 percent from 3 and 71.8 percent from the line while mostly playing as an undersized four and was also the same age as most of the sophomores in this draft. It’s not like he destroyed the G League either, registering a 14.7 PER in 24 games.
Beauchamp has a 7-foot wingspan that he can use to stronger effect defensively and on the glass, and that’s why he may be able to get away with playing four in the pros. More skill development could eventually allow him to play three, which is where he would add the most value if he can pull it off.
Tier X: Disappointing one-and-dones
42. JD Davison | 6-3 freshman | PG | Alabama
I get why teams may be down on Davison — he was a hot mess this past year, shooting erratically and not really running the team the way you’d like. That said, the difference between his athleticism and the other available options at this point in the draft is pretty jarring, with a 9.8 percent rebound rate from the point guard spot and multiple instances of easy levitation around the rim.
Davison is also capable of making some incisive passes and running a team; he just tries to do all kinds of crazy stuff on top of it, and the result was a sky-high turnover rate (6.1 per 100 possessions in SEC games).
Davison’s shooting is another question mark. He made 30.8 percent from distance while pushing a line-drive shot from in front of his chest that didn’t always come off his hand clean. He’s going to need a lot of work to make opponents respect his perimeter game, but if he becomes even remotely average, he’ll blow by defenders and open up the rest of his game.
43. Jean Montero | 6-3 | PG | Overtime Elite
We’re at the point in the draft where buying a mystery meat tilts from a negative to a positive, which takes us to Montero. He wowed me when I saw him at the Basketball Without Borders in 2020, which would turn out to be one of the last times I’d see actual basket players in person for quite a while. Since then he’s stalled out a bit, playing this season for Overtime Elite with mostly younger players and not dominating to the extent you’d think.
Montero had a solid Hoop Summit game, but was injured early in the draft combine on-court potion and therefore couldn’t raise his stock there. Measuring 6-1 without shoes, he has to play point guard, and has refined his instincts to play more as a passer and less of a scorer. However, concerns remain about his ability to defend and to finish in traffic, and for a guy with a rep as a shooter, he didn’t shoot all that well this year.
Overall, it’s possible the draft world turned too negative on him, considering he was perceived as a top-20 pick a year ago. He’s a pretty good athlete, he tore up the Spanish second division as a 17-year-old in 2020-21, and he won’t turn 19 until a week after the draft. He’s a good second-round flier.
44. Caleb Houstan | 6-8 freshman | SF | Michigan
Houstan is the more tolerable version of Patrick Baldwin (see below) in some respects, a theoretical big wing shooter who played better basketball than Baldwin this past season but perhaps offered fewer hints of upside.
While Houstan wasn’t actively lighting things on fire the way Baldwin did, he failed to make an impression as a shooter (35.5 percent from 3, 78.3 percent from the line), rebounded like a guard and shot 44.4 percent on 2s in Big Ten games. There were some nights when he was just completely invisible, such as his zero-point, zero-assist, “just cardio” night in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
That said, the pieces here are probably worth taking a shot on late in the draft. Houstan is big and his shot isn’t broken. He has just enough perimeter skill to talk yourself into him developing more and becoming a real weapon with his pull-up game. He’s not a plus defender but he’s not toast either; he can stay solid, fight through screens and use his size.
Houstan declined an invite to the combine, so we don’t know his real height and length measurements, but his listed height of 6-8 is believable. That combine refusal also created buzz that he has a promise from some team.
45. Bryce McGowens | 6-5 freshman | SG | Nebraska
McGowens is a tough eval because he played on a horrid Nebraska team where he had to be the main shot creator as a freshman in the Big Ten. He also didn’t help himself with how he played, seemingly in love with floaters despite infrequently converting them, and barely registering at all on defense. I don’t trust his shot eye-test-wise, and he made only 27.4 percent from 3. Finally, he’s dangerously thin and will need to fill out physically.
That said, there’s a toolset here. McGowens can handle the ball and get to the cup, skills that should be better advantaged in an NBA setting, and he drew a ton of fouls. He also hit 83.1 percent from the line, a positive harbinger that he can work out the last few kinks in his low-release delivery.
Overall, the chance for wing shot-creation and half-decent shooting overrides some of the other worries (could you maybe try getting a stop? Once?) at this point in the draft, especially given McGowens’ relative youth.
46. Peyton Watson | 6-7 freshman | SF | UCLA
Watson has an NBA body but has yet to combine it with NBA skill, which is why he struggled to get on the floor for UCLA in his freshman season. He only played 405 minutes and didn’t make much of a case for getting more, posting an 11.2 PER on 39.4 percent true shooting. Watson has to both fix his outside shot and refine his finishing and decision-making in the paint.
The signs are more encouraging on the other side of the ball, where he averaged 5.6 “stocks” per 100 possessions and was a plus rebounder, but he will need to cut back on the fouling (7.6 per 100). The search for big wings who can defend multiple positions is ever-present in the NBA, and that’s why somebody is very likely to roll the dice in the second round on developing Watson.
47. Max Christie | 6-4 freshman | SG | Michigan State
Christie looks the part as a long-armed wing (6-9 wingspan) who moves well and has a nice shooting motion, but the results have yet to catch up to the eye test. Christie’s selling point is as a 3-and-D wing, but the defensive tape isn’t that great. He looks mobile at first glance, but he rarely disrupts the ball, gives too much cushion and still gets beaten by straight-line speed relatively often.
Offensively, he had a limited role, but his play in that role completely justified the decision not to play through him more. Even while being able to cherry-pick what shots he took, Christie made only 31.7 percent of his 3s and 42.9 percent inside the arc. He also had a shockingly poor steal rate (0.9 per 100 possessions in Big Ten games) for an allegedly athletic guard.
The “athletic” part seems very real, though, and Christie’s combine measurements could help his case. He jumped 32.0 inches from a standstill, ripped off a 3.07 sprint, and his plus wingspan helped offset a disappointing height measurement (6-4¼ without shoes).
48. Patrick Baldwin | 6-9 | SF | Wisconsin-Milwaukee
A tall wing with some perimeter skill who teases with talent in between bouts of sleepwalking, Baldwin comes from a proud draft lineage that includes Austin Daye and Kevin Knox. I don’t really see what the excitement is here, but I’m fascinated to see which team will take the plunge. The idea of Baldwin — a big wing with a 7-1 wingspan and deep shooting range — is alluring, but the reality on the court last year was borderline disastrous.
Even in a poor conference, Baldwin was a below-average player, and in ways that don’t augur well for an NBA translation. Athleticism? Heh. He had the worst standing vertical and worst sprint time of any non-center at the combine, and the worst max vertical of anyone there.
The reason to draft him is a belief that his shooting can come around. Baldwin launched 64 3s in his 11 college games but only made 26.6 percent of them; there is a belief based on his AAU play that he’s capable of much better than this. If so, there could be a stretch four hiding in there somewhere.
49. Jaden Hardy | 6-4 | SG | G League Ignite
Hardy is still being talked about as a first-round pick, apparently, even though he was one of the worst players in the G League a year ago. He played 21 games and posted an 8.5 PER and was a traffic cone on defense.
Hardy’s shot is a definite plus, a tight flick off the shoulder that he gets into relatively easily off the dribble, and he has a pretty strong frame. However, that’s where the positives end. His shot selection bordered on disastrous, he’s not an elite athlete and rarely got all the way to the basket, and he pretty clearly isn’t a point guard. He also didn’t do the measurements portion of the combine, and I’m wondering if he’s shorter than his listed 6-4.
Is there something to grab on to here with the youth, the shooting and the frame? Perhaps it’s worth the bite of the apple by this point in the draft, which is why I’ve listed him here, but I’m having a hard time getting excited.
Tier XI: Some more bigs
50. Ismael Kamagate |6-11 | C | Paris Basketball
A classic rim-running five who can block shots and finish in the lane and will never, ever be asked to make a jump shot, Kamagate put together a solid season in a B-minus league as a 21-year-old, including blocking over 6 percent of opponent shots for a second straight season.
He’s slightly built and doesn’t really rebound like a five, plus his instincts as a roller are pretty questionable if he has to do anything besides dunk. Historically, European bigs who became anything in the pros have usually crushed a league like this by their age-21 season; Kamagate didn’t meet that bar. Meanwhile, French leagues historically aren’t great places for player development, either, which puts a dent in his stashability. That said, he has a size-bounciness package that should get his foot in the NBA door, so he’s worth a late-second-round lottery ticket.
51. Christian Koloko | 6-11 junior | C | Arizona
A massive 7-5 wingspan will get you noticed, especially given the improvement Koloko made this season. He had a 10.3 percent block rate and showed enough feel as a distributor to make you not completely hate him as a potential elbow operator. Koloko also made 73.5 percent of his free throws; there is at least a shred of shooting touch to build on. All this probably adds up to a third center with backup upside. That’s not a sexy return on a draft pick any higher than this point, but Koloko certainly is good enough to warrant selection.
52. Jaylin Williams | 6-9 sophomore | C | Arkansas
Williams is smart and a good passer, but too often it felt like he was trying to game the system. He was amazing at taking charges, but that was basically his entire defensive repertoire; can he be something more than Mo Wagner in the NBA? Defensively he would play a hundred feet off the ball and wasn’t great laterally even in closer quarters; any switch against an NBA-caliber guard will result in him conceding on off-the-dribble 3s unless he really tightens up his footwork.
Offensively, he’s crafty, but he’s also undersized, not a great finisher, and only a career 25.5 percent shooter from 3. I have him on here out of deference to his passing and overall basketball IQ, which could end up translating in unexpected ways.
53. Kofi Cockburn | 6-11 junior | C | Illinois
An old-school, broad-shouldered center who just wants to mash in the paint, Cockburn did enough at the combine to show how his game could translate in a backup center role. He can overpower opponents on the glass (20.3 rebound rate in the Big Ten), draws heaps of fouls with his physicality, and can effectively body opposing bigs away from the rim. Defense will be an issue — he has to play in a drop coverage and isn’t much of a shot blocker — but at this point in the draft, he’s a decent gamble.
Tier XII: The best of the rest
53. Andrew Nembhard | 6-3 senior | PG | Gonzaga
Nembhard rocketed up draft boards after dominating the final day at the combine, but let’s not get crazy here. We also have four years of game tape from Florida and Gonzaga to see what he is and what he isn’t.
Nembhard can run a team and makes few mistakes, but offensively, his 34.3 percent career shooting and lack of blast-off quickness are unlikely to turn him into a plus weapon. Relative to a player like Tyus Jones, for instance, his college stats are far more underwhelming at both sides of the floor, although Nembhard did boost his steals rate last season and become a more respectable shooter. It’s not crazy to squint and see a Monte Morris-type upside here, but I still think the more likely endgame is as a third point guard.
54. Jabari Walker | 6-7 sophomore | PF | Colorado
Just one of those guys with a nose for the ball. Walker is 6-7 with a 6-10 wingspan and a 28-inch no-step vertical, which should put him at a disadvantage against other power forwards. But despite average tools, he’s a freakishly good rebounder, one who snagged 21.1 percent of missed shots in Pac-12 games this season. While he subsists heavily on second shots and averaged two turnovers for every assist, there’s also enough floor-spacing gravity here (39.9 percent career on a decent total of attempts) to suggest Walker can have value as a bench energizer.
55. Luke Travers | 6-7 | SF | Perth Wildcats
One of my favorite stash candidates, Travers played in the G League Elite Camp and showed enough feel as a passer and secondary ballhandler to think he can make it if his shot straightens out. To this point that’s been the biggest hold-up in him turning into a Joe Ingles-type distributor from the forward spot, because Travers can put it on the deck with either hand and make plays off the dribble. He also rocks a glorious blond mullet straight out of a 1984 Ratt video, which makes every play twice as impressive.
56. Dom Barlow | 6-9 | PF | Overtime Elite
Somebody should select this guy with one of the final picks of the draft and sign him to a two-year two-way; I think he could become a real player in time, but it’s not going to be overnight. He looked lost at times in the draft combine games, but he’s 6-9 with a solid frame and a 7-3 wingspan, and only just turned 19. His performance at OTE this season didn’t suggest insta-stardom or anything, but he was one of the better players there and he may fill out enough to end up being a full-time five.
57. Matteo Spagnolo | 6-4 | SG | Vanoli Cremona
Relative to his fellow Italian Procida (see above), Spagnolo is a better shooter and a year younger, but wasn’t as impressive production-wise, is two inches shorter and a worse athlete. Spagnolo’s 2021-22 shooting splits are eye-popping (44.1 percent from 3 and 86.1 percent from the line), but it’s a small sample (675 minutes, just 68 3-point attempts). and he’s never shot at quite this level before. All of his makes him much better as a stash candidate than as somebody to draft onto a roster, and a good pick late in the second round for teams inclined to wait.
58. Jamaree Bouyea | 6-0 | PG | San Francisco
There’s a lot to nit-pick here if you want. Bouyea is 6-0 in socks, he’ll be 23 at the end of the month, he’s more of a scorer than a distributor, and he shot 33.7 percent from 3 in college. Also, on tape, it was more like Jamaree Blowby, with a reaction time to his first slide measured in lunar years.
And yet … at this point in the draft, an athletic guard with shot-creation and ball-thieving skills seems like a decent proposition. Bouyea is short and can look heavy-footed at times, but he also had an impressive steal rate, sports a 6-7 wingspan and uncorked a 32.5-inch standing jump. He needs to improve his outside shot but has the ability to get to pull-ups with relative ease, as he showed in a 36-point outburst in his team’s NCAA Tournament loss to Murray State.
Tier XIII: My top two-way guys
Only 58 players will be selected (Miami and Milwaukee forfeited their second-round picks, taking us down from the usual 60), but the after-party is gonna be lit. Teams value their two-way spots more than ever and will be on the phones with undrafted players trying to fill those slots as soon as the draft ends. Here are some of my favorites who didn’t crack the top 58 above:
59. Tyrese Martin | 6-6 senior | SG | Connecticut
Martin had a mostly unremarkable season at UConn, but showed enough versatility at the G League Elite Camp and then the combine to give himself a decent chance of getting drafted. He’s an iffy shooter, but his size, handle and defense, combined with an impressive 39-inch max vertical, give him some pathways toward rotation-ish usefulness as a backup at either wing spot. Martin also rebounds unusually well for a wing, with a 13.0 percent rebound rate in Big East games, checking another box in the positive column.
60. Iverson Molinar | 6-2 junior | PG | Mississippi State
I’ve liked Molinar from the word go because he has first-step quickness that you can’t teach, and that skill tends to blossom in the more open NBA game. He also has a 6-8 wingspan and a 39-inch max vertical.
That said, there is some work to do here. Iverson has improved as a distributor but still plays as a scorer too much; his outside shot also looked increasingly contorted this year as he slumped to 25.2 percent from 3. He’s a career 83.1 percent free-throw shooter so one hopes the 3-ball is salvageable; he has no chance without it. Finally, for a quick, athletic guy, Molinar doesn’t make dribblers feel him much at the defensive end. He needs to be a more active and handsier defender at his size.
All this may be worth a two-way investment because of his potential as a bench scorer; he can scoot.
61. Darius Days | 6-6 senior | PF | LSU
Days is undersized for the four and had a 24-inch no-step vertical, so we’re not off to a good start here. But it’s not that hard to picture him as a high-IQ, no-mistake role player stretching the floor off a team’s bench. He shot 35.3 percent from 3 for his career, but on very high volume for a four, and was crafty enough defensively to nab 3.0 steals per 100 possessions in SEC games.
Given the evolution of the position toward smaller, stretchable, switchable players, and the ability of Days’ 7-1 wingspan to let him play bigger than his height and hops would suggest, he may have a chance.
62. Isaiah Mobley | 6-10 junior | C | USC
I’m a sucker for bigs who can pass because I’m willing to bet their feel level wins out over other limitations. Mobley isn’t nearly as talented as his more famous younger brother, but his 5.8 dimes per 100 possessions and nearly 2:1 assist-turnover rate jump off the page for a college big man. The tape shows several advanced deliveries in the mix, hinting at usefulness off the elbows and, perhaps, above the arc if his nascent 3-point game keeps developing.
Mobley will need to take advantage of the same ability to read the game on the other end, where he was a subpar rebounder even for a college five and a limited rim protector. Between that and his blah athleticism, we’re probably talking about backup five upside, but there are worse two-way gambles you could take.
63. Keon Ellis | 6-4 senior | SG | Alabama
Ellis was invisible on the court at the combine and measured just 6-3½ in socks (Alabama listed him at 6-6), which probably nuked his chances of getting picked in the top 40, but there is still a 3-and-D package to sell here. Defensively he’s pretty solid — he gets into the ball, has active hands and often took the challenge of checking small, fast guards. He lacks strength in close quarters and sometimes succumbed to quick changes of direction, but he won’t’ be a target on that end of the floor.
Offensively, I don’t love the optics on Ellis’ stroke, but for his career, he made 37.1 percent from 3 on high volume and 83.1 percent from the line, so maybe I should shut up. He needs to show more vitality off the dribble, but he finished chances when he got them.
64. Aminu Mohammed | 6-4 freshman | SG | Georgetown
A one-and-done who isn’t getting much attention despite undeniable athleticism and a 6-11 wingspan, Mohammed may not have enough skill to get by at his height. He held his own on the court at the combine, however, and his rates of rebounds and steals were pretty remarkable.
What wasn’t remarkable was how he did on self-created shots; Mohammed shot only 36.7 percent on 2s in Big East games, and while some of that owes to the general train wreck that was the Hoyas 2021-22 season, Mohammed also has to refine his drives and finishes and hit the open man more often. His shooting is another question mark, at 31.0 percent from 3 on low volume. More often than not, a guy like this tops out as a good G League player, but if the shooting and decision-making come around, Mohammed has more upside than most of the players in this range.
65. Tevin Brown | 6-5 senior | SG | Murray State
I was pretty impressed with Brown when I saw him in person, just because he knows exactly what he is as a player, and that thing has a good chance to translate into a limited NBA role. Brown can shoot with deep range, converting 38.6 percent of his career 3s and owning good footwork coming off pindowns and into catch-and-shoots. He’s much less of a threat off the dribble, although he can get out for the occasional highlight finish on the break and showed good secondary creation as a passer.
Brown has a skinny frame, weighing in at 175 pounds at the combine, but he was a solid enough defender and held his own on the glass. The “3” part of his potential “3-and-D” package is more NBA-ready, and at 24 years old, he’s gonna need to make his mark quickly. But he has a chance.
66. Hyunjung Lee | 6-7 junior | SF | Davidson
Lee is a great two-way lottery ticket because his potential as a movement shooter with size offers obvious comps to the two-way successes of Max Strus and Duncan Robinson in Miami.
Lee pretty clearly patterns his game after Klay Thompson, moving off the ball for back-cuts and catch-and-shoots but rarely putting it on the deck on his own. He did this well enough to shoot 39.7 percent from 3 for his career on monstrous volume (11.5 3 attempts per 100 possessions) and 82.3 percent from the line; he can shoooooot, y’all.
Lee also measured a legit 6-7 with a 6-9 wingspan at G League Elite Camp, making it easier to envision him playing the 3 and thereby softening concerns about his footspeed. He also rebounded like a 4 in the Atlantic 10 and has a pretty solid build.
That said, his feet are the big question here, because the lateral quickness is suspect, to say the least. The game seemed to zip past him at G League Elite Camp, although he still managed to uncork 15 3-point attempts in 38 minutes, and he’ll be a popular target for opponents.
67. Jordan Hall | 6-7 sophomore | SF | St. Joseph’s
Hall struggles to score and isn’t much of an athlete, but he’s 6-7, 20 years old and can handle the ball, providing enough intriguing quirkiness to justify a late second-round flier or, more likely, a post-draft call for a two-way. Hall shot 35.8 percent from 3 in his two seasons, and the 3 off the dribble seems to be his go-to because he’s such a shaky scorer inside the arc (41.7 percent on 2s — yikes).
The intriguing part, however, is that Hall also can pass and rebound, with per-100 possession stats nearly in triple-double territory. The passes didn’t always hit their mark — he also had a huge turnover rate, and his role was undoubtedly too high for comfort because he was forced to be the go-to guy for an 11-19 team. But scouts have been talking up Hall since the middle of his freshman season; there is something to build on here.
68. Grayson Murphy | 6-3 senior | PG | Belmont
Pardon me while I pull a name out of left field here. I’ve been intrigued by Murphy ever since I saw him as a freshman, against some guy from Murray State name Ja Morant. I’m not sure whatever happened to that guy, but Murphy is now a 23-year-old, fifth-year senior.
At first, his case isn’t exactly overwhelming. He averaged 7.7 points per game in the Ohio Valley Conference, and he might not really be 6-3 (we don’t know — he wasn’t even invited to the G League Elite Camp, let alone the combine). He’s a 32.2 percent career 3-point marksman on low volume and 57.5 percent from the line.
And yet … he is a good test case for the idea that we spend too much time looking at the scoring columns with prospects and not enough looking at the others. Murphy is an absolute stat-sheet stuffer, rebounding like a power forward, dropping two and a half dimes for every turnover, and swiping an amazing 4.3 steals per 100 possessions.
69. Scotty Pippen Jr. | 6-0 junior | PG | Vanderbilt
Pippen is small, makes too many turnovers and isn’t a great shooter. The first thing isn’t fixable, but one of the other two needs to change for Pippen to establish himself as an NBA point guard. Either is possible, and neither is likely.
If he can turn the corner, though, there are some things to like here. Pippen is small but will heat up the ball on defense (3.7 steals per 100 in SEC games) and was a constant pest in the combine games. He gets downhill to the basket easily, and while his decision-making at that point needs to improve, he draws heaps of fouls (a ridiculous 16.3 free-throw attempts per 100 possessions in SEC play). He’s not a shooter, but the shot isn’t what you’d call broke neither; he made 34.3 percent from 3 for his career.
Most guys like this have NBA careers measured in 10-day increments, but on a two-way, Pippen has a chance to be more if he can clean up some of his rough edges.
70. Alondes Williams | 6-4 junior | PG | Wake Forest
Has the ACC player of the Year ever gone undrafted before? Williams is huge for a point guard, has a good first step, rebounds like a wing and can jump. However, he’s an erratic shooter (27.0 percent from 3 for his career) and too often dribbled into crowds and/or threw passes into the seventh row. He’s capable of some impressive looks when he’s running well, and when he gets downhill he can use his size and hops to finish at the cup, but the overall package ends up being pretty inefficient.
Williams is an amazing story, coming from a backup role at Oklahoma to improbably win ACC player of the year for one of the league’s lesser lights, but he’s 23 and will need to play very differently as a pro. I’m not sure this story ends in more than a two-way.
71. Michael Foster | 6-8 | PF/C | G League Ignite
Foster got lots of reps in his gap year with the Ignite, and he was … serviceable. Fine. He can score a fair amount for a big, with a solid midrange game that could stretch out to the 3-point line in time. However, he is an average athlete and is rather undersized for the five at the NBA levels, which would force him into defending fours … which I’m not sure he can really do.
Foster has some shot-blocking instincts and is pretty long for his height (7-0 wingspan); that and a real 3-point shot might make him threatening enough to establish a career as a frontcourt reserve. He’s 19 and was a decent player in the G League last year, which is a good starting point for him to become … something. What that something is remains to be seen.
72. Justin Bean | 6-7 senior | PF | Utah State
Bean has one giant red flag: he is 25 and will turn 26 the first month of the season. I only know this because I was his backup in high school.
Seriously, Bean is one of the oldest straight-from-college rookies the league has ever seen, thanks mostly to a two-year Mormon mission, and that likely nukes any chance of somebody using a draft pick on him.
But as a two-way, I think he might be able to help a team immediately. Bean can really jump and is a tremendous out-of-area rebounder, he shot 46.5 percent from 3 (on low volume) and 80.0 percent from the line, and he has the mobility to defend along the perimeter. Obviously, nobody is signing him for long-term upside, but contenders with an open two-way should look at him.
73. Orlando Robinson | 6-10 junior | C | Fresno State
I have trouble getting excited about centers, but Robinson has a 7-4 wingspan and enough skill to be at least somewhat interesting as a developmental big. He can be a bit slow and plodding defensively, but he made 37 3-pointers in 36 games and knows what he’s doing on the block. While I have a hard time talking myself into him being anything better than mediocre on defense, there is enough here offensively to take a flier on him.
74. Kam McGusty | 6-4 senior | SG | Miami
McGusty is the perimeter answer to Justin Bean, a 24-year-old “veteran” who turns 25 this fall, and was one of the best players in the ACC this year in his sixth – yes, sixth – college season. McGusty had a disappointing G League Elite Camp and measured an inch shorter than his listed height, which combined with his age might have been enough for teams to write him off.
They shouldn’t, though. He shoots better than his 34.0 percent career mark would lead you to believe, and is very comfortable attacking bigs off switches and getting into pull-ups off the dribble. He’s a strong, handsy defender, too, posting high steal rates each of the past two seasons, and his solid frame should help him at the next level. As with Bean above, I think a contending team in need of immediate help should look at him for a two-way spot.
75. Bryson Williams | 6-9 senior | PF | Texas Tech
He’s 24, so again, don’t get your hopes too high. He’s a limited athlete, too, which means he probably has to be a stretch four rather than a five. That said, Williams can probably help somebody right now on a two-way. He has a 7-2 wingspan, finishes catches around the basket and added enough 3-point juice last season (41.7 percent, on reasonable volume) to have legitimate stretch possibilities. He was arguably the best player at the G League Elite Camp, earning his way into the main combine, and last season was one of the key players on the nation’s second-best defense.
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(Photo illustration: Wes McCabe / The Athletic; photos: Jeffrey Becker, Joseph Maiorana, Matt Pendleton / USA Today)