2021 NBA DRAFT - Historical Analytical Deep Dive

Can We Filter Draft Prospects to Find an All-Star

The NBA draft is upon is and I decided to take a dive into recent history to see if there are any trends or statistics that can help determine potential busts and/or be able to filter what pool NBA teams should be swimming in to find all star caliber players. This seems like a great place to use a classification tree. The idea of a classification tree is to split players into groups where each group has similar positive/negative qualities to best determine probability of making at least one all-star team. Based on the historical data provided from sites such as sportsreference.com and realgm.com, I tried to build a classification tree for first round prospects with the goal of producing some level of likelihood of NBA success as an NBA all-star. Drafting is an inexact science with many layers, but if GMs could filter the universe of players with the highest probability of success, to a manageable pool to select from, their bust rates would be reduced substantially. To me, using a decision/classification tree method based on historical data, to help in draft selection is akin to making march madness picks. No GM can hit on every single pick but increasing their odds as much as possible should always be at the front end of their process. Not every player is going to fall into all-star or not all-star categories, but this can at least help filter the players that might fit.

 Before we do that, I wanted to look back at the data from 2010-2020 drafts to see if we could find some patterns of success or failures based on certain player attributes. All of the data referenced are players’ final seasons in college (unless otherwise noted) and represent 279 drafted players in round one. 31 of the 279 players from the round one database have made at least one all-star team. Seeing as how difficult and rare it is to make an all-star team in the first 1-2 years in the NBA, if you eliminate the most two recent drafts, where Zion Wiliamson is the only all-star representative, the true reflective figure is 30 players out of 232 players (13%). From 2010-2018, every single round one has produced at least one all-star representative from college. On average, every first round produces 3.5 all-star players from round one, coming from college. The goal is to find the 3-4 most likely all-star candidates in this draft, or at minimum reduce the unlikely probability of guys making an all-star game.

There are some advanced stat discussion below, so use this glossary as a way to help fully understand the different metrics being discussed:

Assist Percentage–  an estimate of the percentage of teammate field goals a player assisted while he was on the floor. This is a better metric than pure number of assists because it is pace/tempo adjusted so as to not simply over/understate based on a team playing on a much faster/slower pace than others. Pure assist stats can be padded by two things: the amount of time that a player is on the court and the pace at which his team plays. It evens the playing field. It’s a better indication of how effective a player is at producing assists during each one of the team’s possessions.

FT Rate– a percentage of how often a player gets to the free throw line/field goal attempts.


The Old Guys

We have long heard that age is a big factor for NBA GMs when taking a chance on a potential future superstar. In analyzing the data, age 22 seems to be about where prospects see diminished value in the first round.  

·       52 college players, age 22 or older on the day they were drafted, have gone in round one since 2010.  Among the 52 only one, Pascal Siakam (age 22.1) has made an all-star team.

·       7 of the 52 were drafted in the top 10 (Kris Dunn, Buddy Hield, Ekpe Udoh, Wes Johnson, Obi Toppin, Frank Kaminsky and Jimmer Fredette). None of the six (Toppin excluded) has made an all-star team and none signed an extension with the team that drafted that player. Siakam was just over 22 years old when drafted but he did possess multiple elite qualities in college such as ranking in the 98th percentile among all round one college wings from 2010-2020 in both rebound and block rates. If a team wants to draft a prospect at age 22+ in the first round, it would make sense to find one with major outlier metrics like Siakam. Otherwise, your odds of finding elite or all-star caliber players from this pool seem low.

·       Even if you go back to 2006, the best players age 22+ in round one would also include Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah, J.J. Redick and George Hill. Noah and Siakam are the only players age 22+ in round one since 2006 to make an all-star team out of 77 older players (2.6%), much lower than the overall round one all-star rate.

·       Although the odds of finding an elite player, or even just a random all-star appearance, are slim the group does have some rotation players. Best among them- Buddy Hield, Doug McDermott, Cam Johnson, Grayson Allen, Reggie Bullock. Josh Hart, Derrick White, Taurean Prince, Larry Nance Jr., Kelly Olynk and Gorgui Deng. It seems to me that the strategy in drafting older players should be reserved for late in round one or even into round two with limited ceilings for most of them. There’s nothing wrong with drafting solid rotational players but if your goal as a GM is to find the best players possible, evaluating this low ceiling reward should be strongly considered based on where you are drafting.

·       When you expand this list to round two, out of 136 college players drafted at age 22 or older in the 2nd round, two have made an all-star team- Draymond Green (22.1 yo) and Isaiah Thomas (22.1 yo). Similar to Siakam, Draymond was an elite rebounder (19.8% the highest in the wings database). There have been a handful of solid rotation players here as well including Dwight Powell, James Ennis, Chandler Parsons, Devonte Graham, Joe Harris, Jordan Clarkson and Norman Powell. Malcolm Brogdon is a borderline all-star and would be considered a very successful older round two hit. The moral of the story is teams tend to overdraft the older players in round one while finding much better risk/reward in round two.

2021 PROSPECTS EFFECTED: Prospects age 22 and older expected to be drafted in the top 20 of round one this year include Chris Duarte (24.1), Davion Mitchell (22.8) and Corey Kispert (22.3).



·       75 traditional big men have been drafted round in round one with college stats since 2010.

·       As mentioned above, age matters a lot in general, but even more so for big men. There have been 44 traditional big men drafted in the first round, who were over the age of 20.2 years (Nikola Vucevic) at the time of the draft, and none has made an all-star team since Roy Hibbert in 2008.

·       The hit rate of college big men under the age of 20 in round one has been tremendous of late. Of the 75 round one big men drafted out of college since 2010, 8 of the top 9 in current win shares per game (basketballreference.com) were 19.3 years or younger at the time of when they were drafted. Joel Embiid (20.1 years old) is the oldest in that group and he was drafted after his freshman season. Anthony Davis, Karl Anthony-Towns, Zion Williamson, Embiid, Bam Adebayo, Deandre Ayton, Andre Drummond, Jarrett Allen and Steven Adams round out that grouping.

·       Big men come in all different flavors (pure offense, great rebounder, defender, etc). If a GM is searching for big men who have the best likelihood to defend well in the NBA, guys who have high steal and block percentages in college tend to have similar success in the NBA. There have only been four big men who ranked in the upper 20 percentile of the 44 big men in the database in steal and block percentages. Those guys are Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel and Brandon Clarke (stretch PF). All four are excellent defenders in the NBA and all four ranked in the top 30 of the entire league last season in defensive box plus minus according to nbareference.com. Isaiah Jackson is the only player in the 2021 draft who fits that steal and block profile. He is extremely raw offensively but with his athleticism and defensive metrics, he profiles as an elite NBA defender.

2021 PROSPECTS EFFECTED: Kai Jones (20.5) is the only highly regarded big man prospect over the age of 20.2.  Only four round one college prospects among big men are under 20.2 years of age- Evan Mobley, Isaiah Jackson, Greg Brown, Justin Champagnie. As mentioned above, Jackson is the only big man top prospect who ranks in the upper 80th percentile in both steal and block percentages.



·       Probably the toughest evaluations for a GM in the NBA draft have to be with international players. It is hard enough to properly evaluate college players, who all play essentially similar quality of competition, but to do so overseas with players who play in all sorts of different leagues is extremely tricky. It is really hard to find certain traits that translate to the pros but historically, the biggest knock on international players has been that many had been labeled “soft”. What I have found is that international players who are aggressive overseas have a better chance to succeed in the NBA. The best way to evaluate aggressiveness on offense, in my opinion, is through the ability to get to the free throw line. Since old school back to the basket international big men essentially all can get to the free throw line, this analysis was strictly held to only guard and wing players.

·       A total of 26 international Guard and Wing/Stretch PF players have been drafted in round one and ended up playing minutes in an NBA game.

  • The players who have recorded the four highest Free Throw Rates (FTA/FGA) in their final international season since 2010 are Giannis (80%), Dennis Schroder (52%), Luka Doncic (51%) and Nikola Mirotic (51%). All are highly successful NBA players. Evan Fournier, Kristaps Porzingis, Bogdan Bogdanovic are other successful NBA players with rates of at least 30% in international ball.

  • There are 11 players with FT rates under 23.3%- RJ Hampton, Aleksej Pokusevski, Killian Hayes, Nemanja Nedović, Sekou Doumbouya, Deni Avdija, Furkan Korkmaz, Frank Ntilikina, Mario Hezonja, Terrance Ferguson and Dragan Bender. Out of the 314 US and international players drafted in the first round since 2010, none of these 11 players above with international FT rates under 23.3% rank in the top 150 in win shares per game.  All are either mediocre rotation players or total busts. Eight of the 11 rank in the bottom 60 in win shares out of the 314 players. And considering five of these players were drafted in the top 10 of their respective drafts, avoiding international players high up in the draft with poor free throw rates seems like a solid move. Even going back to the infamous Nikoloz Tskitishvili, his FT rate was a poor 13.7% as well.

  • When running a regression between free throw rates of these international players and current win shares per game in the NBA, the r-squared stands at pretty respectable 0.27. There seems to be some level of ability to explain NBA success purely based on free throw rates.

2021 PROSPECTS EFFECTED: The top four International Guard and Wing prospects that are potential first round candidates include Josh Giddey (26%), Usman Garuba (25%), Roko Prkacin (32%), Juhann Begarin (30%). All at least meet that 23.3% free throw rate hurdle, however, Giddey is being touted as a top 10 pick. When you consider that the elite or even borderline all-star caliber international guard and wing players in recent seasons (Giannis, Luka, Schroeder, Founier, Bogdan) all produced free throw rates above 30%, his 26% is a tad concerning. When combined with very poor shooting, 29% on 3s and only 69% on his free throws, alarm bells are blaring on Giddey.

The Wings (combo guard thru stretch PF))

•     Based on research, one of the best ways to filter out the potential busts and increase the probability of finding an all-star combo guard or wing player is evaluating a player’s assist rate. Poor assist percentage helps in filtering out busts or high volume/inefficient scorers with a low ceiling. Why does this make sense? Unless you are some elite, unicorn type of shot creator and maker, it is very difficult to impact an NBA team without also being willing and able to create for teammates. Since 2010, no wing player drafted in rounds one and two, with an assist percentage under 10% (bottom 20th percentile among 135 round one wing players), has made an all-star team. There have been 28 wing prospects drafted in round one with an assist % under 10%, including ten players drafted in the top nine of their respective drafts (Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Derrick Williams, Jabari Parker, Patrick Williams, Jonathan Isaac, Harrison Barnes, Terrance Ross, Al-Farouq Aminu and Kevin Knox). There are multiple high busts among this list including Bennett, Williams and Parker all top 2 selections. Essentially, the only way to truly make up for such a poor assist percentage is to be a high-volume scorer in the NBA. Wiggins, Barnes, Isaac and T.J. Warren, who also is among this category, are the best players in the group and are all solid starters but are not all-star caliber. Even prior to 2010, lottery busts like Hakim Warrick, Austin Daye and Michael Beasley, all fell below that 10% assist mark.

  • Even the successful round two wing players like Khris Middleton, Draymond Green, Chandler Parsons, Josh Richardson, Dillon Brooks, Joe Harris, Norman Powell all had assist percentage numbers well above the 10% mark.

 Please note, this is not to say there is a direct correlation between high assist rates and NBA success, but rather falling below this minimal threshold helps identify the highest likelihood of a bust or limited ceiling combo guard/wing player.

2021 PROSPECTS EFFECTED: This spells trouble for teams interested in drafting round one prospects like Corey Kispert, Cam Thomas, Moses Moody, Trey Murphy and Josh Primo. Thomas profiles similarly to Wiggins, Warren and Barnes from a high scoring/low assist perspective but Thomas’ 5.2% rebound percentage is well below those three players and is tied for the 2nd lowest among round one wing players since 2010. Not to mention his 109 defensive rating is the worst among college wing prospects this season and the 2nd worst in the database (C.J. Wilcox is the worst) since 2010. He’s an avoid at all costs to me.


The Elite Wing/Big Guard Defenders

•     When examining the better wing & big guard defenders of the last 10 years- Matisse Thybulle, Draymond Green, Tony Allen, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Ben Simmons, Klay Thompson, Marcus Smart, OG Anunoby all come to mind. Which one of their traits have translated from college to the pros? They all fouled at a rate well above the median level and produced high steal percentages in college. The steal numbers make obvious sense but what about the fouling? It is a misconception that low foul rates are a good thing. Defenders who are physical and are able to get up into an offensive player’s face to make him uncomfortable shows me the willingness to want to defend well. Fouls are going to happen, but it is definitely a signal of effort and physicality. It is surely not a coincidence that Tony Allen produced one of the higher foul rates in the database while Nik Stauskas and Jimmer Fredette were among the bottom five in foul rates. This elite defensive wing grouping all fouled at a rate of at least 0.080 personal fouls per minute, which is well above the median level of 0.072. Everyone in this group also produced a steal percentage of at least 2.7%, well above the 2.3% wing group database. Finally, none of them had a defensive rating above 99.

2021 PROSPECTS EFFECTED: Guards and Wings who met the steal percentage and fouls per minute hurdle, expected to go in round one, include Jalen Suggs, Jared Butler and Scottie Barnes.

The Outlier Shooters


Poor Guard Shooters

·       Point guards and combo guards who are outliers from a FT shooting and 3-point shooting perspective can help us predict success in the NBA. From a high level, this makes sense considering small guards don’t have the ability to post up or physically get to the rim and finish over taller players as easily as wing players can. So not being able to shoot well from the FT line and the 3-point line is a major detriment to their ability to impact games in the NBA.

·       Among 59 PG and combo guards drafted in round one since 2010, the bottom 20th percentile in FT shooting sits at 70% and the median 3-point shooting percentage sits at 37%. There are only 9 players who have shot below both of those figures in college and were drafted in the first round- Tony Wroten, Archie Goodwin, Elfrid Payton, Michael-Carter Williams, Marquis Teague, Austin Rivers, Avery Bradley, Kendall Marshall and Dejounte Murray. (Note: I did not consider Ben Simmons as a PG for this analysis considering he measured 6-10 with a 7+ foot wingspan prior to the draft. And can counter shooting issues with outlier size and ability at the rim). None of the nine guys has even sniffed an all-star team and out of over 300 players in the round one database since 2010, those nine players rank between 140th and 309th in win shares per game. Only Murray is currently a full-time NBA starter quality player.

2021 PROSPECTS EFFECTED: There are no 2021 first round prospects who fail to meet both the 3-point and free throw shooting thresholds.


Elite Guard/Wing Shooters

·       Shooting on its own doesn’t fully predict NBA success but it’s clearly key. When examining 3-point shooting volume, 3-point shooting percentage and free throw percentages while also filtering out for older players and low assist rate (as mentioned above), we can start narrowing down our list of potential stars among this group of Guard and Wing players.

·       Among 194 guard and wing players drafted in round one since 2010, 14 of the players have crossed the threshold in shooting in college (upper 20th percentile in both free throw shooting and 3-point shooting on above median per game 3-point attempts), clearing the important 10% assist rate hurdle while entering the draft under 22 years old. Out of those 14 players, four have made an all-star team (Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Devin Booker and Klay Thompson) while a fifth is clearly an all-star caliber player without the official nod (C.J. McCollum). In addition, potential future all-stars in Tyrese Haliburton, Mikal Bridges and Immanuel Quickley also fall in this bucket of players. If you are looking for a really good player, this is the pond to go fishing among the guard and wing positions.

2021 PROSPECTS EFFECTED: Three players in the 2021 draft fit this outlier shooting profile- Cade Cunningham, Miles McBride and Tre Mann.


TA’s 2021 NBA Draft Prospect Rankings:

Players I’d Avoid (Compared to Consensus Rankings):

1.       Corey Kispert- I know Kispert’s outside shooting prowess (43% from 3 on 6.5 attempts) is very tempting but unfortunately he checks two of major red flag boxes- he is over 22 years old (22.3) and produced a poor assist rate (9%), which ranks in the bottom 15th percentile among all wings since 2010 drafted in round one. As mentioned above, both are in the buckets that have shown to almost never produce an all-star appearance. And we saw how Kispert really struggled against NBA-level athleticism and length when he struggled mightily against USC, UCLA and Baylor in the tournament when he shot a combined 17/44 from the field (38.6%) and only 7/25 from 3 (28%).


It’s easy to say his NBA comp is Doug McDermott but even he produced a better assist rate (12%) and went to the FT line at a much higher rate (33% vs 25%) in his final season. I wouldn’t touch Kispert anywhere in round one.


2.       Cam Thomas- I hated watching Thomas at LSU. Nothing worse than watching a high volume, selfish scorer take awful shot after awful shot in college. When you dig into his numbers it looks even worse. As mentioned above, Thomas is part of the dreaded low assist rate category (8%) so he doesn’t create at all for others and he shot a very poor 32% from 3 (lowest among all top 100 two round prospects with over 4 attempts per game) while taking 7.2 attempts per game, 2nd most among first round prospects. Not only that but he didn’t make up for that inefficiency and selfishness by doing anything else very well. His 5.2% total rebound percentage ranks last among prospects over 6’0 tall and absolutely pales in comparison to potential other historical comps of high volume scorers with low assist rates like TJ Warren, Harrison Barnes and Andrew Wiggins, all of whom produced rebound rates of at least 9.4%. Oh wait there’s more, he is a horrific defender to boot, posting a defensive rating of 109.4, dead last among draftable prospects this year. He also produced a steal percentage of 1.4%, among the bottom 20th percentile in this year’s draft. I wouldn’t touch Thomas at all and his closest recent statistical comp is Shabazz Muhammad. No thank you.


3.       Moses Moody- There are definitely reasons why an NBA scout could fall for a guy like Moody, considering his 7’0 wingspan, 48% free throw rate and 81% free throw shooting. But he falls into that low assist bucket as well (8.2%) and was a high volume outside shooter (5.1 3pa/gm) but a below median maker (35%). For a guy with a wingspan at 7 feet you would think he would be a better rebounder than he showed (9% rebound rate) and could produce a higher steal percentage (1.6%) but both were just at the median level of NBA Guard/Wing prospects this season. Outside of getting to the free throw line, he doesn’t do anything really “well”.  Maybe he really develops his outside shot and becomes a 3 and decent enough D but is that a reason to take the guy in the lottery? I don’t think so and he hasn’t shown enough for me to really have high hopes as ever being more than a decent rotational player.

Fwiw his closest statistical/profile comparison is Xavier Henry in 2010. Besides the same low assist percentages, they had the same 6’6 height with shoes Henry had a similar 6-11 wingspan. He also shot 41% from three as a freshman on 4.6 attempts and 78% from the FT line, so the outside shot was already better than Moody’s. I would consider Moody a prospect in the 20s much more than someone in the lottery.

4.       Davion Mitchell- Mitchell was the talk of the NCAA tourney, when he lead the Bears to a title after a redshirt Junior season with his tenacious defense and lights out shooting. His attributes are easy to fall in love with but there are also a few red flags. For one, he is 22.8 years old and as mentioned earlier, there has only been one all-star from round one since 2010 over the age of 22.  Many people love to compare Davion to his brother (it’s a joke they aren’t actually related) Donovan, but Davion’s 6-4 wingspan pales in comparison to Donovan’s 6-10 measured at the combine. It is hard to ignore Davion’s 6’1 measurement with shoes and ding him when compared to Donovan’s enormous wingspan. Now what about the underlying traits? Some will point to how great a 3-point shooter (45%) he has become after starting his career only shooting 28% and 32% from outside his first two seasons. But when you see such a big jump in shooting like that it leaves you wondering if that was an outlier or if he truly did improve that much. Typically, one way to cement how good an outside shooter a player will end up in the pros is by analyzing his FT shooting numbers. Well, Davion’s 64% FT shooting this year and career 67% shooting leaves a lot of big questions. How often has a guard drafted in round one shot over 40% from 3 on above median (3.2 att/gm) volume while also shooting under the bottom 20th percentile (70%) on free throws in their final college seasons since 2010? I could only find two examples, in Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball. Fultz is now a career 26% NBA 3-point shooter while Ball is a respectable but not nearly elite 35% shooter. This past season he ranked 82nd out of 150 players who attempted over 4 threes per game, in 3-point percentage. This does not bode well for Davion in the shooting department. Do I think Mitchell could be a serviceable rotation guard with a ceiling like Pat Beverly? Sure but is that a top 10 pick? If that’s your upside don’t believe so.

Players I’d Draft Higher Than Consensus:

1.       Tre Mann- Mann is an intriguing shooter/scorer and at 6’4 has decent enough size to be a scoring combo guard. His shooting was elite level last season (40% on 4.7 3PA/gm and 84% from the FT line) when compared to other combo guards in the last 10-15 drafts who ended up being all-star caliber in the NBA. As mentioned above, Mann is one of only three players in this year’s draft that fits into the elite shooting bucket. Only 14 of 194 guard and wing players under age 22 who was drafted in round one since 2010 that has produced upper 20th percentile FT and 3 point shooting on high volume 3 point attempts (min 3.1 att/gm) while also clearing the 10% assist hurdle. Out of those 14 players, four are all NBA-caliber players (Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Devin Booker and Klay Thompson) while a fifth is clearly an all-star caliber player without the official nod (C.J. McCollum). He is also unselfish and can create for others as witnessed by a solid 21.9% assist percentage which was higher than both Donovan Mitchell and Terry Rozier and just below McCollum’s 24% his final season at Lehigh.  McCollum is almost the perfect comparison for Mann and his role in the NBA will be scoring guard. You would like his wingspan to be longer (only 6’5) but Mann is still growing. After his Freshman season, Mann grew over 2 inches and may not be done yet. I think he is a top 10-15 player in this draft and would take him late in the lottery.

2.       Miles McBride- McBride too fits the elite shooting bucket after hitting 42% from three on 6.3 attempts and 81% from the FT line. He’s only 6’1 so will have to play the PG position but his passing really improved in his Sophomore season after posting an impressive 28% assist rate following only 17% as a Freshman. Normally I wouldn’t rank a short scoring guard so highly because typically those types of players cant defend well but that’s not the case with McBride. Even though he’s only 6’1 he posted an impressive 6’9 wingspan at the combine which helps solidify his defensive stalwart profile. He’s an absolute bulldog on defense and routinely picks up players full court. His 3.1% steal percentage is in the 80th percentile of all draftable guards and wings this season and in the top 70th percentile of current NBA guards drafted since 2010. His profile is almost identical to Terry Rozier, including identical 6’9 wingspans. The thing is, McBride already possess a much better outside shot than Rozier coming out of college (42% vs 30% for Rozier from 3). I’d rather draft McBride than Davion Mitchell and think he’s a top 20 prospect.

3.       Jared Butler- Stop me if you’ve heard this before but I like yet another combo guard who can light it up from the outside and fits the elite shooter historical bucket. Butler has a smooth stroke and has lit it up from 3-point range ever since he stepped onto the floor as a Freshman and has increased his outside shooting each year from 35% to 38% and this past season 42%. According to Sam Vecenie at the Athletic, Butler hit 48% of his 3-point attempts from beyond 25 feet. He is elite on pick and rolls and he will be effective in the NBA from day one off high ball screens. He is also excellent in transition and was one of the leaders in efficiency on fastbreaks at 1.13 points per possession. You would wish he was a bit taller than 6’3 but again similar to McBride he is such a good defensive player that he can defend both guard positions if needed. His 3.7% steal percentage ranks #1 among draftable prospects this season and is in the 85th percentile among round one guards and wings since 2010. I see a lot of Eric Gordon in him when I watch him play.

4.       Isaiah Jackson- Jackson is your quintessential modern rim running offensive big man with elite defensive qualities. Think Clint Capela with some Nerlens Noel from Jackson, who is the only college entrant this season who posted historical upper 20th percentile rankings in steal and block percentages. Since 2010, only four other men have produced those rankings, including Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel and Brandon Clarke. He doesn’t have the offensive games of Embiid and Davis, but he certainly is more advanced than Noel at the same age. While Jackson only attempted two 3 pointers this season, he did hit 70% of his free throws which is an excellent sign for a big man at his age. For comparison’s sake, Noel only hit 53% while Embiid and Davis were both also right around 70%. At just over 19 years of age, Jackson is one of the younger players in this draft and as noted earlier, big men under the age of 20 in round one has been a successful group in the last decade.

5.       Jalen Johnson- Johnson is such an intriguing prospect with major boom or bust potential. The guy is just over 19 years old, measuring in at 6’9 with a 7’0 wingspan and has the skills to play the point forward position, score and create for others. That combination doesn’t exist all the time, so he has to be taken seriously in the lottery. He has the pedigree, as he came to Duke as a 5-star prospect and top 10-15 nationally, but he also is a bit of a headcase after transferring multiple times in high school and essentially quitting halfway through Duke’s season. I don’t work for an NBA front office so I am not privy to all what happened and his mental makeup but those are obvious concerns. But back to on the court, he is just so damn tantalizing at his size. He only started 8 games and played parts of 13 total games but did hit 8 of 18 from 3 (43%) and produced an excellent 20.5% assist rate for someone with his size. These are small samples of course but he can afford some leeway with his shot at his size. Between size and skill set at this age, the player that he reminds me of the most, if he can hit his ceiling, is Paul George. By comparison, George produced a 12.2% assist rate at the same age as Johnson before upping that figure to 22% as a sophomore. Johnson is already there. Both guys turned it over too much and both shot under 70% from the free throw line as Freshman. George did show a dramatic rise in his free throw percentage by making 90% as a sophomore. Johnson’s defensive metrics were elite last year as well when he produced a 3.1% steal percentage and 6% block rate. Again, this is sample size theater but the only round one guard or wing, since 2010, who produced steal and block rates at this level was Matisse Thybulle. That’s it. By comparison, Kawhi Leonard only had a 2.8% steal and 2.6% block rates his final season. Johnson could end up being a headcase and this will blow up in a team’s face, but the lottery exists to take swings at potential franchise wing players and to me Johnson is worth that risk for his upside.


Overall Prospect Rankings:

1. Cade Cunningham: SF Oklahoma St.

Analysis: Cade is the #1 player in this draft when you consider his skill set and the positional value, essentially as a 6’8 point guard. He isn’t in the top pick class as guys like Lebron, Anthony Davis and Zion Williamson but he’s very good. He kind of does everything pretty well and doesn’t force things on offense. He has good vision and the way he paces the offense and is never in a hurry has some shades of Luka coming out as well. At worst he’s probably a Khris Middleton type of NBA player but if he continues to progress can become a top 10-15 NBA player. The biggest knock on him is his high turnover rate (18.7%) but historically lots of turnovers doesn’t correlate too much with any NBA deficiencies. By comparison, in their final college seasons Jason Kidd (23%), John Wall (21%), Ja Morant (20.5%), Paul George (18.1%), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (17.9%) and Jaylen Brown (17.9%) to name a few had high turnover rates as well.

NBA Stylistic Comparison: Luka Doncic

NBA Statistical Comparison: Klay Thompson/Caris Levert


2. Jalen Green: SG G-League

Analysis: Green has elite athleticism in the mold of Zach Lavine with a solid outside shot at the ripe age of 19. Unlike his counterparts, we don’t have to project Green’s outside shot from the college to the NBA 3-point line since he already hit 37% in the G-league. That’s damn good for a then 18 year old. Since 1979, there have only been 12 players who made over 36% from 3 on over 5 attempts per game as a rookie, similar to what Green produced last season. It also helps that he hit 83% of his free throws as well, showcasing his excellent shooting stroke. He didn’t get to the line as much as you would hope but he also didn’t turn the ball over very much so overall he had a fine offensive season in the G-league. Former NBA veterans on his team like Jarrett Jack and his coach Brian Shaw have raved about Green. As mentioned, he has Lavine like athleticism but he is a much better shooter/scorer than Zach was coming out of UCLA. His 49%/37%/69% shooting slash line coming out of college pales in comparison to Green’s 53%/37%/83% against grown men in the G-league. His upside is immense and at 6’6 with a 6’8 wingspan, has prototypical wing size for this NBA.

NBA Stylistic Comparison: Zach Lavine

NBA Statistical Comparison: Bradley Beal


3. Jalen Suggs: SG Gonzaga

Analysis:  Suggs is just good at basketball. Sometimes it’s as simple as that and just like Tyrese Haliburton last season, GMs just shouldn’t over think it https://twitter.com/ClevTA/status/1296615288012759045?s=20.  The guy was a 5-star recruit and went to a loaded veteran Gonzaga team and he came in, understood his role on the team, and never forced anything. There are tons of guys who would’ve either demanded lots of shots or pouted when they didn’t become the focal point of the offense but that’s not at all what Suggs did this past season. What he proved is that he can play awesome team basketball, excel in transition, defend at a really high level and when needed could attack the rim to get a basket. His counting stats don’t blow you away (14.4 ppg, 5.3 reb, 4.5 ast) but that’s because his usage was below the median level of guards and wings in this draft, due to all the veteran offensive talent in that lineup. If he had gone to another big school like UNC or Kansas, who were both without major talent at the guard position, he might have taken much more of the offensive load and averaged over 20 ppg. His 59% shooting on 2-pointers is elite level and puts him behind only Lonzo Ball and Victor Oladipo but just ahead of Kyrie Irving for round one guards since 2010. He can get to the basket in a similar fashion to Derrick Rose coming out of Memphis (52% from 2). Although his outside shooting numbers were decent, but unspectacular, I did love how when Gonzaga needed him the most in the NCAA tournament against UCLA and Baylor, he was the only Zags player able to get his shot off consistently and score (52% from the field, 40% from 3 combined). He’s also awesome defensively at such a young age and his 3.7% steal rate is the 2nd highest since 2010 among first round Freshman to come into the NBA. Suggs may not have a conventional superstar elite ceiling but there’s almost no way he isn’t a 10+ year all-star level pro.

NBA Stylistic Comparison: Kyle Lowry

NBA Statistical Comparison: Derrick Rose


 4. Evan Mobley: PF USC

Analysis:  I’ve been pretty vocal in my “criticism” of Mobley on twitter but it’s really just my opinion that while he is a very good prospect, between positional value and overhyping of his projected skill set, many analysts are trying to make him more than what he actually is. First, lets discuss the positives. He is very agile and can move his feet well for a man that tall. He is a solid passer for a big man and his 14.1% assist rate ranks in the upper 90th percentile among round one big men since 2010. While he only made 12 3-point shots all season, he does have a nice stroke for a big man.

And now the negatives. He just isn’t in the same mold as other elite big men coming out that I personally thought would be all-star level NBA players, namely Joel Embiid and Anthony Davis. https://twitter.com/ClevTA/status/469830457253564416?s=20  It feels like the basketball community is trying to turn Mobley into a player that he is not, or at least hasn’t given enough signs that he can be, some 7-foot version of Kevin Durant or Giannis. While his assist rate is very good for a big man, for context, it rates well below taller wing players like Jalen Johnson and Zaire Williams. He is not a guy who initiates offense, doesn’t bring the ball up the floor and won’t be a guy you can set ball screens, where he can hit a mid range jumper. Per Synergy Sports, he only was the ball handler on 15 total pick and rolls and only 7% of his total shot attempts came in isolation all season. He only made 12 3s all last season and shot 69% from the free throw line. For context, Durant hit 41% from 3 (82 makes) and 82% from the FT line his Freshman season at Texas. Also, compared to some of the elite big men he is being compared to, Mobley’s 56% free throw rate ranks well below some of the other elite Freshman big men drafted in the top 5 (Embiid 84%, Cousins 73%, Davis 61%).

I keep seeing that Mobley is some elite rim protector but his shot blocking numbers pale in comparison to some of the better current NBA big men while in college. Embiid, Davis, Noel, Myles Turner, Karl Anthony-Towns and Jaren Jackson Jr., all have a block rate of at least 11.5%, which dwarf Mobley’s 8.8% rate. Mobley also is a poor rebounder for his size. His 18.9% defensive rebound rate ranks well below all those same big men and his 14.5% total rebound rate ranks among the bottom 25th percentile among all big men drafted in round one since 2010. The Mobley defenders should point to Bam Adebayo as his closest comparison because he is literally the only elite defensive big man who produced college numbers on par with Mobley.

I guess my question would be, why is Mobley such a coveted prospect more than someone like Jaren Jackson? Jackson actually had a longer wing span at the combine (7’5 to 7’4), produced a higher steal rate (1.6% to 1.4%), nearly doubled Mobley’s block rate (14.3% to 8.8%), had a higher rebound rate (19.7% to 18.9%), shot better from both 3-point range (40% to 30%) and from the free throw line (80% to 69%) while getting to the free throw line at a higher rate (58% to 56%)?

Mobley is a very good prospect but I have him more in the class of Deandre Ayton, Jaren Jackson territory than I do Embiid or Davis.

NBA Stylistic Comparison: Chris Bosh

NBA Statistical Comparison: Jaren Jackson


 5. Scottie Barnes: SF FSU

Analysis:  Barnes, at just under 20 years old, is easily the most intriguing prospect in this draft for me. He’s a 6’8 point forward with a 7’2 wingspan. His 31.6% assist rate is incredible for a player at his size and at his age. In fact, his assist rate is the 3rd highest in this entire draft class and he’s only behind two point guards (Sharife Cooper and Jason Preston). For context, Chris Paul and Ben Simmons posted assist rates of 30.8% and 27.4%, in their Freshman seasons respectively. He also is an elite wing defender, especially for a Freshman, and uses that incredible wing span to his advantage. He falls into the same statistical category as other elite defensive wings like Tony Allen, Draymond Green, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Ben Simmons with a steal percentage over 2.7%, a defensive rating under 99 and a foul rate above the historical median level. So that’s the good news.

Now the bad news. He can’t shoot. At all. His shot is extremely slow and ugly. He only shot 29% from 3 and 61% from the free throw line. OG Anunoby (32% from 3, 57% from FT line) and Jaylen Brown (30% from 3, 66% from the FT line) are probably the best hope for Barnes improving his shot in the pros. But most likely with that form, he will need to be completely re-made as a shooter. If Barnes can even just be a slightly below average outside shooter, he is so good everywhere else that he can be a borderline all-star. If he shoots anything above average he can become a top 15-20 NBA player with all of his other skills.  At worst I think he can be a Jonathan Isaac type of NBA player so his floor is fairly high.

NBA Stylistic Comparison: Ben Simmons

NBA Statistical Comparison: OG Anunoby



Rest of the Lottery Rankings:


6. Jalen Johnson

7.       Jonathan Kuminga

8.       Franz Wagner

9.       Tre Mann

10.       Isaiah Jackson

11.       Miles McBride

12.       Jared Butler

13.       Ayo Dosunmu

14.       Ziare Williams