Sizing Up The Freshmen

The NBA’s trend towards skill, speed, and “pace and space” has given way to a new breed of mutant centers who can stretch out to the 3-point line while also fulfilling the basic duties of a big man. 2014 draft picks Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic, as well as 2015 lottery selections Karl Anthony-Towns, Kristaps Porzingis, and Myles Turner are among the ten-or-so most promising young players in the league. Just as Hakeem, Shaq, David Robinson, and Patrick Ewing ruled the paint in the 90’s, another golden age of centers is on the horizon.  Nowhere is the center renaissance more apparent than in this year’s NCAA freshman class, which features a diverse set of burgeoning new-age big men who could shape the league for years to come.

Screen Shot 2018-01-10 at 12.13.01 PM*Pace adjusted Per 40 minute stats (courtesy of

DeAndre Ayton – C – Arizona

A quick glance at DeAndre Ayton (pictured) and he looks like an obvious #1 draft choice. He has a chiseled, 7’1″ frame, an offensive repertoire that legitimately resembles Hakeem Olajuwon, and a reported 40+ inch vertical leap. With his 26 PTS and 15 REB Per 40 minute average, Ayton is also producing historically like a number one pick. However there is one glaring weakness that cast doubts over his future as a dominant NBA center; his defense, specifically protecting the rim.

A convenient comparison for Ayton is Sixers’ center Joel Embiid. The measurables, the footwork, the face up jumper, the background as a foreign giant (Ayton is from the Bahamas) who took to basketball relatively late in life. The rub is that Ayton is not like freshman year Joel Embiid. Embiid was a defensive monster who had more than double the rate of steals and blocks that Ayton has currently. Moreover it was not Embiid’s offensive polish that excited scouts, it was the fact that he could somehow execute a flawless dream shake even as he was still learning to control his limbs. A more apt comparison might be Karl Anthony-Towns, a defensive dud who has nevertheless achieved NBA stardom by being an efficient 20/10 machine. The problem with that is even Towns was a prolific shot-blocker in college (4.2 BLK/40) even though he, like Ayton, was often forced to share the court with true centers like Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson. The lesson here is that while NCAA blocks don’t guarantee defensive excellence, they almost serve as a pre-requisite to becoming a great NBA center. Ayton’s appeal is undeniable, but unless he starts swatting people in league play I would at least think twice before slotting him into the top two or three.

Marvin Bagley – PF/C – Duke

As you can see from the chart above, many of the concerns over Ayton also apply to Bagley. You could argue that Bagley has more outs if he is a minus defensively; he is abnormally fast and lithe for a near 7-footer and is a voracious offensive rebounder. He is still drawing live to be a version of Blake Griffin, but the idea of a big man who is neither exceptionally skilled on offense nor strong defensively should warrant some skepticism.

Mohamed Bamba – C – Texas

Mo Bamba serves as a perfect foil to Ayton and Bagley, an under-skilled beanpole who is chasing an historic blocks rate. It’s hard to imagine a better rim-protecting prospect at this level than Bamba. He is a quick and explosive leaper with a 7’8″ wingspan who volleyball spikes attempts at the rim in a way that will make you never want to drive the basket again. As a result, Texas is 5th in defensive efficiency via KenPom (up from 21st last season) while Duke and Arizona are 106th and 75th respectively. Outside of his willingness to shoot threes, there is little to suggest Bamba will be anything more than a lob catcher on offense. Still, it is conceivable that Bamba is such an impact defender that he could return more value overall than Ayton and/or Bagley at the next level.

Wendell Carter – C – Duke

Carter is sort of the happy medium among this group except that he is notably the best passer (on paper, anyway). There are two ways of looking at this: 1) he has no red flags and is the best all-around player, or 2) he isn’t outlier good at anything and is therefore the least intriguing of all. Given that he is also somewhat husky and ground-bound, I would lean towards the latter interpretation. I do think his passing skills are key, as this is a common trait among centers who have overcome athletic deficiencies such as Jokic and Marc Gasol.

Jaren Jackson – PF/C – Michigan State

Jaren Jackson arrived on campus with less fanfare than his peers, and since they have all lived up to the hype it has more-or-less remained that way. But consider the case for Jackson:

  • He is the youngest of the group
  • He has the highest steals rate
  • He is the best 3PT shooter (20-46, 43.5%)
  • He is one of the most prolific shot-blockers in recent draft history despite playing PF
  • He is the one who is best suited to play next to a traditional C in two big lineups
  • MSU is top 10 in both defensive and offensive efficiency, and #2 overall on KenPom

The only red flag in JJ’s statistical profile is his turnover rate which, unlike a low block%, isn’t any sort of a death knell for a young center prospect (Embiid, Derrick Favors, DeAndre Jordan, and DeMarcus Cousins were all NCAA turnover machines). Jackson projects as a stud defender with the potential for a complete offensive game, which I can’t say confidently for any of his counterparts. I believe he deserves serious consideration as soon as Luka Doncic comes off the board.

Hardwood Blues Preseason All-Americans

Previously I have used this post as an opportunity to shed light on unheralded NCAA players with eye-popping stats. Now that I have a handy draft metric to grade each player, I can use a more objective criteria: the top-rated player at each position by DMX that isn’t listed on a 2018 or 2019 mock draft (via ESPN/DraftExpress and So without further ado, here are my NCAA sleepers to watch:


Markus Howard / G / Marquette
HT: 5’11”
Projected Draft Class: 2020
DMX: 4.5

As a tiny, one-way player, Howard’s absence from mock drafts is understandable. The reason DMX can’t fade him is because he was an historically good perimeter scorer while being among the youngest players in NCAA. At the tender age of 17, Howard posted 23.7 PTS/40 pace adjusted on a blistering .686 True Shooting %. If you combine his freshman stats with those from the U16 and U17 FIBA tournaments, the diminutive sniper is 114-216 from 3PT (52.7%) and 62-70 from the line (88.5%). Howard is an offensive dynamo, but will it translate enough to the pros to compensate for his weaknesses as a defender and ball-handler? I would have to lean towards no.

John Konchar / SG/SF / IPFW
HT: 6’5″
Projected Draft Class: 2019
DMX: 4.2

My favorite part of draft modeling is that it forces you to consider guys as prospects who would be easily overlooked by conventional scouting methods. A shining example of this is redshirt junior John Konchar, a muscle-bound white guy from the Summit League whose statistical profile is dripping with goodness.


The positionally ambiguous Konchar combines the rebounding of a PF (9.6 REB/40) and the passing of a guard (3.5 AST/40). The only other guy I can find since ’06 with > 9 REB/40 and > 2 AST/TOV is projected #1 pick Luka Doncic, who looks to be literally one of the best prospects ever. In addition to a rare intersection of rebounding and passing, Konchar carries a 2.9% steals rate and an absurd .687 TS%. Basically, Konchar stuffs the stat sheet while hardly ever turning the ball over or missing a shot. Works for me!


Kevin Huerter / SF / Maryland
HT: 6’7″
Projected Draft Class: 2019
DMX: 4.0

Huerter is my Josh Hart Memorial prospect hiding in plain sight. He was a highly-touted recruit who turned in a nice freshman year for the Terps, and his size and all-around skills ought to give him some NBA appeal.

Mike Daum / PF / South Dakota State
HT: 6’9″
Projected Draft Class: 2019
DMX: 4.2

With the importance of floor-spacing at an all-time high, mid-major hero Mike Daum stands a real chance to be drafted as a stretch four. Daum is the only prospect since god-mode 2008 Michael Beasley to average over 30 PTS/40 pace adjusted, and he has done so on .528/.425/.852 shooting splits worthy of several flame emojis. Daum is slow-footed and a liability on defense, but unlike Markus Howard, he could potentially offer an NBA team significant offensive value.


Nick Ward / C / Michigan State
HT: 6’8″
Projected Draft Class: 2019
DMX: 5.8

Nick Ward is the exact type of guy DMX doesn’t know how to handle; a barrel-chested brute who makes up for paltry assist and steal rates with a cartoonish PER. This is how John and Zach Collins ended up rating slightly higher than superior prospects like Dennis Smith Jr. and Josh Jackson. DMX overrates Ward, but I am more than open to the possibility that he is #actually really good. As a freshman he put up 28.7 (!!) PTS/40, fourth among NCAA prospects since 2006 after Beasley, Daum, Steph Curry, and Rodney Stuckey. Even in limited minutes with a diet of easy shots, you can’t post a mark like that on 59% shooting without having great hands, footwork, and a soft touch like Ward. Though undersized, Ward leverages his 7’2″ wingspan to be a beast at the rim, swatting 3.2 shots per 40 minutes. If nothing else, he is sure to be a dominating presence in the Big Ten for the next few years.


New Guys By The Numbers 2017

1. Michael Porter Jr. – SF/PF – Missouri
Projected Draft: 2018
Projected DMX: 9.9

I’ve already discussed Porter as a potential #1 pick in last year’s write-up and in my FIBA recap and he now finds himself atop mock drafts on DraftExpress and However there is a groundswell among smart analysts and scouts that Porter is an overhyped scoring forward in the mold of Jabari Parker, Harrison Barnes, or Rudy Gay. Porter’s DMX projection tells a different story about how he stacks up among highly-touted combo forwards of years past.

Screen Shot 2017-07-27 at 5.15.53 PM

The Michael Beasley comparison is valid but not too worrisome when you consider that Beasley became the worst possible version of himself because he wasn’t serious about playing basketball. I’d argue that another dice roll on a player with Beasley’s talent is about as likely to yield Kevin Durant’s career as it is another borderline NBA-er. The more likely outcome for Porter is Carmelo 2.0 or a rich man’s Jayson Tatum which I believe will make him worthy of a top two pick.

2. Mitchell Robinson – C – Western Kentucky
Projected Draft: 2018
Projected DMX: 9.6

A good trend to look for in NCAA recruits is their trajectory through high school. Since last summer, Mitchell Robinson went from an unranked Conference USA recruit to a potential one-and-done lottery pick, and his projection suggests that the consensus still hasn’t caught up to his talent level. My pre-season “hot take” is that Robinson will mirror Hassan Whiteside’s freshman year at Marshall and prove to be the best among an especially strong class of fives.

3. DeAndre Ayton – C – Arizona
Projected Draft: 2018
Projected DMX: 8.9

Ayton’s career trajectory stands in contrast to Mitchell Robinson’s; once seen as a generational prospect, Ayton has since been surpassed by Porter and others in the eyes of scouts. Ayton was unimpressive at the Hoop Summit and various all-star games and is a candidate to be this year’s version of Harry Giles/Skal Labissiere.

4. Mohamed Bamba – C – Texas
Projected Draft: 2018
Projected DMX: 8.5

Mo Bamba’s game is still raw but he shows significant two-way upside thanks to his mobility and an epic wingspan. I’m buying.

5. Collin Sexton – PG/SG – Alabama
Projected Draft: 2018
Projected DMX: 7.2

What I’m most looking forward to this upcoming college basketball season is the legend of Collin “Sexy” Sexton beginning in earnest on a national stage. Generously listed at 6’3″, Sexton plays with an energy, flair, and competitiveness that will endear him to hoops fans and NBA front offices alike.

6. Kevin Knox – SF/PF – Kentucky
Projected Draft: 2019
Projected DMX: 6.8

Kevin Knox, Calipari’s top 2017 recruit, has great physical tools and is among the youngest players in this class. If he can show improvements as a shooter and passer, Knox could factor into the top five discussion.

7. Shai Gilgeus-Alexander – PG/SG – Kentucky
Projected Draft: 2019
Projected DMX: 6.6

Another member of Kentucky’s loaded class, SGA seems to be notably underrated. That would be a huge development for the Wildcats who figure to have a thin back court.

8. Wendell Carter Jr. – C – Duke
Projected Draft: 2018
Projected DMX: 6.5

Carter was a beast in FIBA and ought to be the same in NCAA, but I’m not so big on him as a draft prospect. He’s undersized, doesn’t shoot threes, and possibly not as skilled as he’s purported to be (0.5 A:TO in FIBA). I would put him in the second tier of bigs in this draft.

9. Troy Brown – SG/SF – Oregon
Projected Draft: 2018
Projected DMX: 6.0

With Dillon Brooks, Dylan Ennis, and Tyler Dorsey departing from last year’s Final Four squad, Troy Brown should step into a huge offensive role for Oregon as a freshman. Brown has a great all-around skill set and could emerge as a top ten pick if shows the ability to score efficiently on high usage.

10. Jaren Jackson – PF/C – Michigan State
Projected Draft: 2018
Projected DMX: 5.9

Jackson was a Hoop Summit standout (13p, 10r, 2blk) who was solid in a reserve role at the U17 Worlds. It will be interesting to see how he establishes himself in a crowded Sparty front court that also features top ten prospect Miles Bridges and draft model stud Nick Ward.

Honorable Mention:

Trevon Duval – PG – Duke
Projected Draft: 2018
Projected DMX: 4.7

Not to pick on Duke point guards (Frank Jackson was actually OK!), but Tre Duval is my pick for most overrated prospect. Duval is a bricklayer (25.2% 3PT) and turnover machine (4.7 TOV/40) reminiscent of Emanuel Mudiay.

Bol Bol – C
Projected Draft: 2019
Projected DMX: 10.9

My super early prediction for #1 overall in 2019 is Bol Bol, son of the late, great Manute Bol and a 7-foot-2, shot-blocking stretch five. Bol’s projected 10.9 DMX would put him in the tier of Joel Embiid and Greg Oden.

The Hardwood Blues 2017 NBA Draft Big Board

1 Markelle Fultz PG WASH 9.5 James Harden
2 Lonzo Ball PG UCLA 10.9 Ricky Rubio
3 Josh Jackson SF KANS 8.0 Gordon Hayward
4 Jonathan Isaac SF/PF FSU 8.3 Aaron Gordon
5 Jayson Tatum SF DUKE 7.6 Carmelo Anthony
6 Dennis Smith Jr. PG NCST 8.1 D’Angelo Russell
7 De’Aaron Fox PG KENT 7.4 Jay Williams
8 Lauri Markkanen PF ZONA 7.2 Andrea Bargnani
9 Malik Monk SG KENT 5.7 Eric Gordon
10 Zach Collins C GONZ 8.4 Jonas Valanciunas
11 OG Anunoby SF IND 6.1 Maurice Harkless
12 Frank Ntilikina PG STRAS 4.7 Russell Westbrook
13 Donovan Mitchell SG LVILLE 5.1 Kemba Walker
14 Jawun Evans PG OKST 6.7 Ty Lawson
15 Justin Patton C CREI 7.6 Brandan Wright
16 Isaiah Hartenstein PF/C ZALG 5.6 Drew Gooden
17 T.J. Leaf PF UCLA 7.3 Jabari Parker
18 John Collins C WAKE 8.4 Jahlil Okafor
19 Harry Giles C DUKE 6.0 Chinanu Onuaku
20 Rodions Kurucs SF FCB 5.0 Thaddeus Young
21 Josh Hart SG VILL 4.8 Jared Dudley
22 Luke Kennard SG DUKE 5.6 Evan Fournier
23 Dillon Brooks SF ORE 4.2 Brandon Roy
24 Monte Morris PG ISU 5.7 T.J. Ford
25 Ike Anigbogu C UCLA 3.7 Ed Davis
26 Thomas Bryant C IND 5.9 Bobby Portis
27 Tony Bradley C UNC 6.1 Noah Vonleh
28 Bam Adebayo C KENT 5.3 Brandon Bass
29 Jarrett Allen C TEX 4.8 Nikola Vucevic
30 Ivan Rabb PF/C CAL 5.3 Richard Hendrix
31 Sindarius Thornwell SG SCAR 2.8 Kent Bazemore
32 Derrick White SG COLO 4.4 Reggie Jackson
33 Jordan Bell C ORE 4.3 Trevor Booker
34 Tyler Lydon PF CUSE 5.0 Shawne Williams
35 Jonathan Jeanne C NANCY 3.6 Alexis Ajinca
36 Edmond Sumner PG/SG XAV 3.9 Caris LeVert
37 Cameron Oliver PF NEV 4.1 Charlie Villanueva
38 D.J. Wilson PF MICH 3.8 Wilson Chandler
39 Caleb Swanigan C PUR 4.5 Jarnell Stokes
40 Frank Jackson PG/SG DUKE 4.3 Austin Rivers
41 Jonah Bolden PF FMP 3.4 Earl Clark
42 Justin Jackson SF UNC 2.6 Rodney Hood
43 Mathias Lessort PF/C NANT 3.4 Jordan Hill
44 Aleksandar Vezenkov PF FCB 4.1 Aaron White
45 Jonathon Motley PF BAY 2.6 Kyle O’Quinn
46 Semi Ojeleye PF SMU 3.5 Matt Bonner
47 Alec Peters PF VALPO 3.8 Milan Macvan
48 Anzejs Pasecniks C GCN 1.4 Cameron Bairstow
49 Malcolm Hill SG/SF ILL 3.6 Deandre Bembry
50 Alpha Kaba PF/C MEGA 3.1 Damion James
51 Nigel Hayes PF WISC 2.5 Landry Fields
52 L.J. Peak SF GTOWN 2.7 Malachi Richardson
53 Nigel Williams-Goss PG GONZ 3.2 Kirk Hinrich
54 Frank Mason PG KANS 2.9 Acie Law
55 Tyler Dorsey SG ORE 3.6 Shan Foster
56 Sterling Brown SG SMU 3.0 Terrence Williams
57 Melo Trimble PG MARY 3.7 Charles Jenkins
58 Reggie Upshaw Jr. PF MTSU 2.8 James McAdoo
59 Jeremy Morgan SG UNI 3.8 Thabo Sefolosha
60 Tra-Deon Hollins PG UNO 4.2 T.J. McConnell

Studying Abroad 2017

In my previous post, I gave some background on my “DMX” draft metric and looked at the top NCAA prospects. The goal of integrating international prospects into DMX was to estimate how they would have performed in NCAA by establishing the relative strength of schedule for the multitude of overseas leagues. This method has its flaws, some that I will get into, but overall I am satisfied with where it ranks internationals among their NCAA counterparts. In the interest of making this read-able, I will hone in specifically on the prospects listed on DraftExpress’ most recent mock draft.

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Isaiah Hartenstein

There is a lot to like about Hartenstein (pictured), an athletic, teenaged 7-footer who can shoot threes, rebound, block shots, and pass. Isaiah’s biggest weakness is that he is an over-aggressive goon, resulting in high turnover and foul rates and inconsistent playing time this season for Zalgiris. Between his projection and a Hoop Summit performance where he acquitted himself well against future lottery picks like Mo Bamba, I am open to the possibility that Hartenstein is the best international prospect in this draft.

Rodions Kurucs

Kurucs, a 6’8″ forward from Latvia, is another young prospect with good numbers at the U18 level. He did play 24 games this year in Spain’s second-division, but a preseason injury robbed him of possible garbage time minutes in the Euroleague for FC Barcelona. At #22 in the DraftExpress mock and #25 in DMX, Rodi would seem to be rated accurately by the scouting consensus.

Frank Ntilikina

French PG Frank Ntilikina, widely considered the best international draft prospect, grades out a bit lower than both Kurucs and Hartenstein. However, the case for Ntilikina is an easy one to make if you parse the numbers.

Ntilikina’s DMX is pulled down by a 308-minute sample as a 17-year old playing for Strasbourg in the France Pro A, so in other words he is unfairly penalized for playing at a high level at an especially young age. If you remove those minutes from the equation his DMX spikes to 6.3, which would be #14 in this class and tops among international prospects. The question for Ntilikina isn’t so much how he compares to the other Euros, but rather how he stacks up against a loaded class of one-and-done NCAA point guards, and even in the best light Frank still looks to be a tier below De’Aaron Fox (7.4 DMX) and Dennis Smith Jr. (8.1), let alone Ball and Fultz.

Aleksandar Vezenkov

It speaks to Vezenkov’s track record overseas that he is the fourth-ranked auto-eligible draft prospect by DMX behind Monte Morris and Josh Hart, both of whom I singled out as winners, and Derrick White, my favorite draft sleeper. Vezenkov is an un-athletic tweener, but he has succeeded at every level from starring on the Bulgarian junior national team to his current role for FC Barcelona. His production and efficiency this season against top-tier competition in the ACB and Euroleague is fitting of one of the best young players not in the NBA.

PLAYER TS% PT/40 RB/40 AS/40 ST/40 BL/40 TO/40 DMX
Aleksandar Vezenkov .697 18.7 7.1 2.2 1.4 0.6 1.6 6.3

Mathias Lessort

Jonathan Jeanne

These two French bigs grade out similarly; Lessort is more productive in Pro A, Jeanne is younger, taller (7’2″), and has stretch five potential. I think Lessort is a good bet in the second round as a big who can bring defense and rebounding off the bench, while Jeanne’s upside could push him into the late-first conversation.

Alpha Kaba

Yet another big man from France, Kaba seems like a version of Lessort with more shooting and less rim-protection.

Jonah Bolden

Bolden is an interesting case as a guy who went from looking like a non-prospect in the NCAA (UCLA) to killing it overseas in the Adriatic League and the Serbian League for FMP Beograd.

SEASON TEAM PT/40 RB/40 AS/40 ST/40 BL/40 TO/40 DMX
2015-16 UCLA 8.3 8.7 1.9 1.2 1.5 1.5 1.1
2016-17 FMP 18.5 10.7 2.5 1.7 1.6 3.0 4.6

I don’t think this is an indictment of the level of competition overseas, but rather a case of a much-improved player as Jonah’s rise on draft boards would suggest. He looks like a legit second round pick.

Anzejs Pasecniks

Pro scouts and people with better insight into European hoops are high on Pasecniks and thus he is #28 on DraftExpress. I will defer to the experts on Anzejs being draft-able (not a hard sell at 7’1″ with offensive game), but his DMX is too bad for me to buy the first round hype. Pasecniks’ career trajectory most resembles an NCAA player who wasn’t any good until his junior or senior year. Even his current “breakout” season in the ACB doesn’t knock you over.

PLAYER TS% PT/40 RB/40 AS/40 ST/40 BL/40 TO/40 DMX
Anzejs Pasecniks .668 18.7 8.0 0.6 0.6 1.9 1.8 4.5

Terrance Ferguson

Saving my hottest takes for last, I probably wouldn’t even waste a draft pick on Terrance Ferguson, a consensus first-rounder. Everything past Ferguson’s age and physical profile is a red flag: Prime Prep, weak FIBA stats, couldn’t remember his short-list of schools at the McDonald’s game, commitment to/withdrawal from Arizona, terrible in the Australian NBL, incurred a 2-game suspension for punching an opponent. Ferguson is dead last in DMX and there are any number of non-prospects who would grade out better. I would bet against him panning out.