The Hardwood Blues 2017 NBA Draft Big Board

RK PLAYER POS TEAM DMX DMX COMP
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.

Re-Introducing DMX: 2017 Rankings

After posting “DMX draft rankings” on social media accounts and referencing the metric frequently on this blog, some have begun to ask “what is DMX?” Fair question! I once tried to explain it in an article breaking down last year’s international prospects, but I made so many wholesale changes to the model that the article became obsolete and I took it down. So let’s try this again.

When I began blogging about the NBA draft, I leaned heavily on NCAA statistics since I am not a paid scout and I saw it as an objective approach that had worked for some sharp draft analysts. The problem I ran into was there were so many trade-offs between each prospect that when it came to ranking players outside of the lottery, let alone the second round, it was like splitting hairs. What I wanted was a literal equation to supplement the one I was trying to do in my head, which gave way to “Draft Model X”.

“The Process”

While I think the DMX results are interesting, the process behind it isn’t overly scientific. To grade each player’s Per 40 minute stats I used Kevin Ferrigan’s DRE Daily RAPM formula and catered it  to draft prospects (greater emphasis on steal rate, for example). To give context to those stats, I adjusted each player’s statistical grade (their “DMX Per 40”) for age, height, playing time, and NCAA strength of schedule (via KenPom). I kept the international model the exact same, only I assigned SOS values for international leagues by using FIBA stats to estimate their level of competition relative to the NCAA. I then tinkered with the weight of each adjustment based on previous drafts, which produced the current version of the model. Save for a handful of outliers, each prospect is assigned a grade between 0-10, with the average for drafted players being just over 4.

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The greatest testament to DMX is that the very top of the list is littered with hall of famers, all-stars, and future all-stars. Even the misses were top draft picks who failed arguably (or in Oden’s case, definitely) for reasons other than their basketball skills. There’s also the curious case of “Ground Jordan” Adams, who probably would’ve been a steal for Memphis had he been able to stay healthy.

2017 NCAA Rankings

Since several international leagues are still ongoing, I’m going to focus on this year’s top 25 NCAA prospects. They are good. By DMX this is easily the best draft class of the one-and-done era with thirteen players earning top-five level grades:

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#TeamLonzo

I’ve already shared my thoughts on Lonzo Ball this year, but I couldn’t let his absurd DMX go without mention. Not even LaVar Ball is as bullish on Lonzo’s NBA potential as DMX. Ball’s mark puts him at #5 all-time between Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, perhaps lending some credence to the “next Jason Kidd” hype. Though I still think Markelle Fultz is the #1 prospect, Lonzo was the guy who I couldn’t take my eyes off of this season, and I might look back in a few years and wonder how I missed the signs.

The Center Field

Big men are viewed as the weakness of this draft, so it is notable that there are three centers in the DMX top ten: Zach Collins, John Collins, and Justin Patton.

Zach Collins

Collins was a key component to Gonzaga’s best team ever and is easily the best C in this draft class. Few freshman have ever scored, rebounded, and blocked shots at the rate Collins did, and if not for turnover issues he would have totally crushed DMX. He’s probably in my subjective top ten.

John Collins

Wake Forest product John Collins (no relation) has the same DMX as Zach Collins, but is a more dubious draft prospect. His case as an ACC PER beast who doesn’t shoot threes or defend is most comparable to Jahlil Okafor and Carlos Boozer.

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DMX definitely overrates J. Collins, however it is inarguable that he was one of the most productive and efficient teenagers in major conference NCAA history, which should probably count for something.

Justin Patton

In addition to his stellar DMX projection, Patton was dominant when I watched him play against Butler and Georgetown. He is an amazing roll man and lob-catcher on offense, and flashed the ability to change shots and defend pick and rolls on the other end. I see him as a version of Brandan Wright who can potentially step out and make jumpers.

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The Reverse One-and-Done

Derrick White spent three years playing at Division-III Colorado Springs before sitting out a year as a transfer and finally completing his college career with a lone D-I season at Colorado. That means White’s stats aren’t weighed down by previous seasons like other NCAA seniors, but the adjustments for age and strength of schedule (for D-III seasons) should offset that advantage. Oregon’s Chris Boucher is a JUCO transfer with very good NCAA stats, and is not in the top 60 of DMX. The reason Derrick White still grades out so well is that his one NCAA season was epic, even compared to other senior guards.

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White finished the season with back-to-back 30 point, 5 rebound, 5 assist games against Arizona and UCF (#18 ranked defense), which would be pretty good for an NBA player dropped onto a college team. My preferred theory is that White is not a small sample fluke, but rather a guy who slipped through the cracks before getting a chance to show what he could do in the Pac-12. He’s got a spot on my big board.

Roll with the Winners

Most would agree that the top of the NBA draft should be reserved for young players with the most upside, mainly stellar NCAA freshmen and intriguing foreign teenagers. This particular draft goes about 20-deep with such prospects. While scouting and projecting potential draft picks is a complex process that involves pouring into data and film and conducting dozens of workouts and interviews, the strategy of teams drafting outside of the top-20 should be simple: find a winner. The entire point of the draft is to add winning players to your team, so what better place to look than guys who were proven winners at lower levels. More specifically, I would target players who could assume a similar role in the NBA that they had in college. Some recent examples include Malcolm Brogdon, Ron Baker, Larry Nance Jr., Josh Richardson, Norman Powell, and T.J. McConnell. Shooting for a 20 ppg scorer among upperclassmen is how you end up squandering a lottery pick on Buddy Hield or Doug McDermott.

Guards

Monte Morris
6’3″ PG
Iowa State

As someone who would die on the hill of the efficacy of “pure point guards”, I am a strong proponent of Monte Morris as a draft prospect. As a four year starter at Iowa State, Morris compiled by far the best assist-to-turnover ratio for any draft prospect in the last 15 years, to the tune of nearly 4.8 assists per turnover. Iowa State finished each of Morris’ seasons on campus in the NCAA tournament and the AP top 25, breaking a 12-year spell of unranked Cyclones teams stretching back to the Marcus Fizer era.

Josh Hart
6’5″ SG
Villanova

I wrote about Josh Hart as a sleeper-in-waiting prior to last season, and he followed up by winning a national title and then emerging as a POY candidate as a senior. Although his college career ended on a sour note, that is the kind of track record you like to see from a four-year NCAA player. Hart’s tenure at Villanova coincided with the most dominant stretch in the history of the storied program, as he helped the Wildcats to seasons of 29, 33, 35, and 32 wins, albeit in a dilapidated Big East conference.

Sindarius Thornwell
6’5″ SG
South Carolina

Thornwell, who has been vaguely on the draft radar since his freshman year, didn’t really blossom until this his senior season when he emerged as arguably the best player in the NCAA. This is a red flag with older draft prospects, but in watching Thornwell lead South Carolina on a warpath to the Sweet 16 it’s hard to envision him being a bad player at the next level. His improved three-point shooting this season (40%) looks legit, and he is a very good defender and passer. Seeing as outside shooting, passing, and defense are the three main tenets of being an effective SG, Sindarius looks like a good bet to stick in the pros.

Honorable Mention: Joel Berry (UNC), Derrick Walton Jr. (Michigan), Devonte’ Graham (Kansas)

Forwards

Nigel Hayes
6’8″ PF
Wisconsin

Even though Nigel Hayes never followed up on the promise he showed as a sophomore on Wisconsin’s Final Four team in 2015, he is a uniquely intelligent kid who knows how to play and has helped lead several under-talented Badgers teams deep into the tournament. I don’t know if Nigel is worth a draft pick at this point, but I would make him a priority in the free agent pool if he were to go un-selected.

Dillon Brooks
6’7″ SF
Oregon

Oregon’s star player is a “master of none” type but his body and game just screams NBA to me. As a sophomore Brooks led Oregon to the program’s first ever no.1 seed and he has the Ducks back in the Sweet 16 as a junior. I would gladly take Brooks over comparable players like Jarron Blossomgame or Justin Jackson, both of whom are higher on DraftExpress.com’s most recent mock draft.

Reggie Upshaw Jr.
6’8″ PF
Middle Tennessee State

Upshaw has made a name for himself as a March Madness hero with memorable first-round performances against Michigan State last year and Minnesota last week. Along with guard Giddy Potts, Upshaw has taken the Middle Tennessee program to new heights as a mid-major power that has advanced in the NCAA tournament in back-to-back years. Reggie has a versatile offensive game to go along with solid defensive metrics, and is worth a shot for a team seeking the next Robert Covington, who coincidentally played at regular Tennessee State.

Bonzie Colson
6’5″ PF
Notre Dame

Bonzie is likely to return to school for another year but I like him so much I’m including him anyway. Colson is just a textbook sleeper; easily written off as short and ground-bound, all the guy does is stuff the stat sheet and win games for Notre Dame. A stocky, undersized power forward with a disproportionally long (7’2″) wingspan, Bonzie’s profile remotely resembles that of Draymond Green coming out of Michigan State. Rockets GM Daryl Morey spoke recently about the pitfalls of the eye-test, recanting a story about how his staff had labeled Marc Gasol “man-boobs”, and guess who has a soft spot for undersized big men and Draymond facsimiles: Darryl Morey! So I’m calling it now: Bonzie to Houston in 2018.

Honorable Mention: Hassan Martin (Rhode Island), Alec Peters (Valparaiso)

Jonny Be Good

If not for the strongest point guard crop since 2009, the story of the upcoming NBA draft would be the talented and versatile freshman forwards Josh Jackson, Jayson Tatum, Jonathan Isaac, and Miles Bridges. While Jackson (8.0 DMX), Tatum (7.7), and Bridges (7.0) have met or even exceeded lofty expectations, the real standout in my numbers has been Isaac (9.8), a wiry 6’10” combo forward with tantalizing two-way potential. After 27 NCAA games, Isaac grades out as the fourth best forward prospect since 2002, edging out Blake Griffin, Chris Bosh, and Ben Simmons. That begs the question, is Jonathan Isaac truly an elite prospect?

It is easy to see why the numbers adore Isaac. He is tall, young (19.7 years old on draft day), efficient, rebounds like a PF or C (11.2 REB/40), and has an elite combination of steals (1.8 Per 40) and blocks (2.3 Per 40). His only blemish statistically is a low assist rate, which is offset in the model by a relatively low turnover %. Moreover, he has done this in arguably the toughest conference in the NCAA and has helped the Seminoles to a #18 KenPom rating, up thirty spots from #48 last season.

Passing

Let’s go back to Isaac’s one conceivable red flag; his lack of assists. Between his statistical brilliance, age, tools, and team success, it seems pretty obvious that Jonathan Isaac is good. The question is whether or not Isaac is a prospect on the level of Bosh or Griffin as his projection suggests, and his passing may be a deal-breaker to that end.

In the NBA, passing the is skill that often differentiates the great from the good. This is pretty intuitive; players who are elite at creating for themselves and also for teammates are completely unstoppable. Since BPM is generally a good measurement of the value of NBA players, here is a list of the top 13 players by BPM along with their AST% this season:

PLAYER AST%
Russell Westbrook 56.5%
James Harden 50.7%
Chris Paul 49.7%
Giannis Antetokounmpo 26.5%
LeBron James 41.7%
Kevin Durant 22.6%
Nikola Jokic 27.3%
Draymond Green 28.3%
Kawhi Leonard 17.7%
DeMarcus Cousins 28.0%
Kyle Lowry 29.2%
Stephen Curry 28.8%
Jimmy Butler 23.3%
Jonathan Isaac 6.8%*

*NCAA

Only Kawhi Leonard, the league’s best perimeter defender and a ruthlessly efficient offensive player, has an AST% under 20%. Even if you expand the list to 50, the only non-center with an AST% lower than 10% is Otto Porter, who is leading the NBA in 3PT% and was an A:TO stud at Georgetown.

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Historically great DMX projection aside, Isaac seems unlikely to achieve NBA superstardom barring a Durant-like leap as a passer (note: Isaac ain’t KD on offense). Markelle Fultz, a supremely talented offensive creator (Westbrook/Harden), and Lonzo Ball, an outlier passer and basketball genius (Paul/Curry), have far clearer, if still mathematically unlikely, paths to being top ten players. Even Josh Jackson (18.6 AST%) is still drawing live to be Jimmy Butler 2.0. Jonathan Isaac projects as a better version of Marvin Williams, a former #2 overall pick who has had a solid career as a stretch four and versatile rim-protector. I wouldn’t draft Isaac over Fultz, Ball, or Jackson, but he has played himself into my top five in a loaded class.