Speak of the Devils

Duke University is at the center of the draft universe in 2019, with the Blue Devils’ freshman class accounting for three of the top five picks and four first-rounders in the most recent ESPN mock draft. While there is still a lot of season to go and much to be decided, I wanted to weigh in on the group of players that will likely decide the fate of the 2019 draft.

screen shot 2019-01-22 at 11.37.56 amPer 40 minute stats adjusted for pace courtesy of RealGM


Zion Williamson

Zion Williamson established himself as the consensus #1 pick sometime during his 28-point debut against Kentucky, and the hype over Duke’s epic freshman class has mostly coalesced into Zion Fever. Williamson is one of the most remarkable athletes you will see in any sport; a 6’7″, 285-pound alien aircraft with a quick first step and a 45-inch vertical leap. His athletic superpowers are reflected in the stats, where he is elite in scoring, rebounding, and accruing “stocks”. Skeptics could point to his assist-to-turnover ratio which sits around 1:1, but even that is relatively good for his position and something of a nitpick considering he does stuff like this on the reg.

Zion leads the NCAA in BPM and a host of other advanced metrics as an 18-year-old freshman and his team sits at #2 overall in the KenPom ratings. He is tracking the most impressive freshman season since Anthony Davis in 2012, and he might be the most obvious #1 draft pick since Davis too.

R.J. Barrett

Barrett came into the season sharing top-billing with Zion, but has since taken a back seat to his more talented teammate and drawn some criticism for displaying poor shot-selection and underwhelming defensively. These are valid concerns, however in the context of of a thin 2019 draft class there is only so far you can fade a young freshman wing with plus size and athleticism posting 26.7 PTS/7.5 REB/4.5 AST Per 40 minutes. For the moment I would rank R.J. second overall.

Cameron Reddish

After an on-fire start to the year Reddish has taken a nose dive, as he is now shooting under 35% from 3PT and an even more concerning 41% from inside the arc. His stats are buoyed by a high steals rate, which is likely to regress as his shot comes back and the turnovers (hopefully) subside. I’m not sure Cam still deserves top-five status, but his prototype, age, and top recruit pedigree is enough to bet on in the lottery.

Tre Jones

Last but not least is the great Tre Jones. Blessed with pure point guard DNA, Tre is currently sporting a 5.5:1 assist-to-turnover ratio with an eye on Monte Morris‘ record mark among recent draft picks (Morris was a huge draft steal, by the way). Jones gives Duke a steady floor general that they have lacked since the Tyus era, and while he is not their best draft prospect, he could be the reason the Blue Devils win it all this season.

Hardwood Blues 2019 Preseason All-Americans

The Hardwood Blues All-American team is comprised of the highest-rated NCAA players at each position according to my DMX model that are not currently listed on 2019 or 2020 mock drafts at ESPN or NBADraft.net

GUARDS


Quinndary Weatherspoon / SG / Mississippi State
HT: 6’4″
Draft Class: 2019
DMX: 4.3

In spite of well-rounded production and an extremely cool name, Quinndary Weatherspoon has sort of flown under the radar his first three years as he has never been a dominant NCAA player and Mississippi State has not been especially good. Weatherspoon’s career Per 40 averages are 19 PTS, 7 REB, 3 AST, 2 STL, and 0.5 BLK. Since 2006, the only draft picks to hit those thresholds are Ben Simmons, Josh Jackson, Tyreke Evans, George Hill, C.J. McCollum, and Lester Hudson (who was 24 and playing at a low-major college). If you lower the barriers to 17 PTS and 6 REB, the list expands to include James Harden, Marcus Smart, Delon Wright, Evan Turner, Draymond Green, and Donovan Mitchell. Not a bad cross-section of the one-and-done draft era.

Trent Forrest / SG/SF / Florida State
HT: 6’5″
Projected Draft Class: 2020
DMX: 4.9

My choice for this year’s “prospect hiding in plain sight” is Trent Forrest, who has been a key contributor for two Florida State teams that have advanced in the NCAA tournament. Even before arriving in Tallahassee, Forrest stood out as a potential sleeper at the AAU level. The reason for Forrest being snubbed from mock drafts is clear: he’s a 6’5″ guard/wing who has made four career 3-pointers. If he grows that aspect of his game, Forrest could be a De’Anthony Melton-like steal in 2019 or 2020.

FORWARDS


Dean Wade / PF / Kansas State
HT: 6’10”
Projected Draft Class: 2019
DMX: 4.6

D-Wade is a very skilled 6’10” player (career 1.7 A:TO) who has shot close to 38% from 3PT over his first three years at Kansas State. He is primed for an All-America type season and could have a future as a stretch 4/5 at the next level.

Juwan Morgan / PF / Indiana
HT: 6’8″
Draft Class: 2019
DMX: 4.8

I am less optimistic about Juwan Morgan’s NBA potential because he is a bit undersized and a non-shooter, but his all-around production in the Big Ten should at least put him on the draft radar.

CENTER


Ethan Happ / C / Wisconsin
HT: 6’10”
Draft Class: 2019
DMX: 6.5

A late lottery pick according to DMX, Ethan Happ is one of the most extreme examples of the dichotomy between scouting and stats that I can recall. A ground-bound big man who dominates with instincts and slick passing, Happ is in many ways the NCAA version of Nikola Jokic, basketball’s analytics vs. eye test poster child. Happ’s utter lack of shooting range precludes him from being the next Jokic, but it shouldn’t stop an NBA team from taking a chance on a unique and extraordinarily productive college player.

New Guys by the Numbers: Class of 2018

In this piece I will attempt to project the top incoming NCAA freshmen based on their AAU stats. I have made some changes to the “DMX” model, so for full rankings and context the complete model can be seen here.

1. Bol Bol – C – Oregon
Projected Draft: 2019 (#1 overall)
Projected DMX: 12.0

You won’t find Bol Bol (pictured) atop any recruiting rankings or mock drafts, but his stats on the AAU shoe circuit speak for themselves. In the 662-minute sample I have, Bol is posting Per 40 minute averages of 31 PTS, 13.4 REB, 2.4 AST, and 5.7 BLK, while shooting 46.6% from 3PT (34-73) and 81.4% from the line. At 7’3″ he looks like a special prospect on paper while none of his weaknesses (extreme skinniness, laziness, odd release, etc.) work against him. There is almost no chance that Bol hits this projection (only Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant have earned higher marks out of the NCAA since 2006), but I wouldn’t be surprised if he looked like freshman year Mo Bamba or Myles Turner statistically.

2. Zion Williamson – PF – Duke
Projected Draft: 2019 (#2 overall)
Projected DMX: 10.3

Williamson is another polarizing prospect; a short and stocky power forward with nuclear athletic ability and a questionable jumper. Zion is a dead ringer for UNLV-era Larry Johnson, who would have crushed draft models and I suspect would have been awesome in today’s NBA. There’s also a chance that his game doesn’t translate against bigger, better, more athletic competition and he is more Shabazz Muhammad than Grandmama. Whether or not they are truly the top two prospects, Zion and Bol will be the most interesting guys to track next season.

3. R.J. Barrett – SF – Duke
Projected Draft: 2019 (#4 overall)
Projected DMX: 8.7

The safe bet to be the best player from this group is R.J. Barrett. Barrett was a decorated prep player at Montverde Academy and has starred for team Canada in FIBA, where he famously led an upset over the USA U19 team last summer.

Barrett has the tools and all-around skill to be a valuable two-way wing and will turn 19 a week before draft day. If he shows progress with his jumper, he is a bona fide #1 pick.

4. Charles Bassey – C – Western Kentucky
Projected Draft: 2019 (#6 overall)
Projected DMX: 8.3

A year after we were robbed of the Mitchell Robinson experience in the Sun Belt, another highly-rated Center is set to play for the Hilltoppers. Bassey is no MitchRob but, assuming he actually plays, my projections expect him to be efficient and dominant.

5. Devon Dotson – PG – Kansas
Projected Draft: 2020 (#8 overall)
Projected DMX: 7.7

Devon Dotson is my top-rated PG from this class. If he proves to be a worthy replacement to Devonte Graham, Kansas could make another run at the Final 4.

6. Cameron Reddish – SG/SF – Duke
Projected Draft: 2019 (#7 overall)
Projected DMX: 7.5

Reddish will join Williamson and Barrett on Duke’s latest superteam. A smooth 6’8″ wing with offensive skills, Reddish has an intriguing profile in this day and age.

7. Nassir Little – SF – North Carolina
Projected Draft: 2019 (#8 overall)
Projected DMX: 7.4

Nassir Little is another two-way wing who seems to be gaining momentum as a draft prospect. His matchups vs. Barrett and Reddish will be must-watch next season.

8. Romeo Langford – SG – Indiana
Projected Draft: 2019 (#10 overall)
Projected DMX: 7.3

Langford made a late commitment to Indiana where he should have a chance to step into a big offensive role for a Hoosiers team lacking backcourt talent.

9. Keldon Johnson – SF – Kentucky
Projected Draft: 2019 (#11 overall)
Projected DMX: 6.9

Johnson was great in the EYBL last season but shot just 9-38 from 3PT, which is not ideal for a 6’6″ wing. His development there will dictate his status as a prospect.

10. Tre Jones – PG – Duke
Projected Draft: 2020 (#9 overall)
Projected DMX: 6.9

The younger brother of draft model and personal favorite Tyus Jones, Tre is bigger but less of a basketball savant.


Overrated

Immanuel Quickley – PG – Kentucky
Projected Draft: 2020 (#41 overall)
Projected DMX: 4.4

Jalen Smith – PF/C – Maryland
Projected Draft: 2019 (#28 overall)
Projected DMX: 4.6

Underrated

Coby White – SG – North Carolina
Projected Draft: 2020 (#12 overall)
Projected DMX: 6.7

Ayo Dosunmu – PG/SG – Illinois
Projected Draft: 2020 (#11 overall)
Projected DMX: 6.8

Looking Ahead

Cole Anthony – PG
Projected Draft: 2020 (#1 overall)
Projected DMX: 10.8

My #1 player in the 2019 high school class and the 2020 draft is Cole Anthony. Anthony will look to follow in the long lineage of sons of NBA journeymen turned NBA stars.

Hardwood Blues 2018 NBA Draft Big Board

RK PLAYER POS TEAM HT DMX
1 Luka Doncic SG RMB 6’7″ 13.6
2 Jaren Jackson PF/C MSU 6’11” 9.7
3 DeAndre Ayton C ZONA 7’1″ 9.9
4 Marvin Bagley III PF/C DUKE 6’11” 9.9
5 Trae Young PG OKLA 6’2″ 9.7
6 Wendell Carter Jr. C DUKE 6’10” 9.1
7 Mohamed Bamba C TEX 6’11” 8.7
8 Michael Porter Jr. SF/PF MIZZ 6’10” N/A
9 Shai Gilgeus-Alexander PG/SG KENT 6’6″ 7.9
10 Miles Bridges SF/PF MSU 6’7″ 5.8
11 Zhaire Smith SG/SF TTECH 6’5″ 7.3
12 Mikal Bridges SF VILL 6’6″ 5.7
13 Robert Williams C TA&M 6’10 6.8
14 Josh Okogie SG/SF GTECH 6’4″ 5.4
15 Troy Brown SG/SF ORE 6’7″ 5.2
16 De’Anthony Melton SG USC 6’4″ 5.9
17 Kevin Knox SF/PF KENT 6’9″ 4.8
18 Collin Sexton PG BAMA 6’3″ 6.5
19 Dzanan Musa SF CED 6’8″ 7.4
20 Kevin Huerter SG/SF MARY 6’7″ 5.3
21 Mitchell Robinson C N/A 7’1″ N/A
22 Jacob Evans SG/SF CINCY 6’6″ 4.8
23 Lonnie Walker SG MIA 6’4″ 4.1
24 Bruce Brown SG MIA 6’5″ 4.1
25 Elie Okobo PG PAU 6’2″ 5.4
26 Jarred Vanderbilt PF KENT 6’9″ 4.6
27 Rawle Alkins SG ZONA 6’5″ 3.7
28 Gary Trent Jr. SG DUKE 6’6″ 5.4
29 Shake Milton PG SMU 6’6″ 4.8
30 Landry Shamet PG WICH 6’4″ 4.8
31 Isaac Bonga SF FRA 6’8″ 5.1
32 Jevon Carter PG/SG WVU 6’2″ 4.6
33 Keita Bates-Diop SF OSU 6’7″ 3.2
34 Donte DiVincenzo SG VILL 6’5″ 3.5
35 Trevon Duval PG DUKE 6’3″ 4.4
36 Chandler Hutchison SF BOISE 6’7″ 3.1
37 Moritz Wagner C MICH 6’11” 5.7
38 Jalen Brunson PG VILL 6’2″ 5.1
39 Khyri Thomas SG CREI 6’3″ 3.9
40 Jerome Robinson SG BC 6’6″ 3.8
41 Gary Clark PF CINCY 6’8″ 4.0
42 Kevin Hervey SF/PF UTA 6’7″ 3.2
43 Vince Edwards SF PUR 6’8″ 3.1
44 Kenrich Williams SF/PF TCU 6’7″ 3.0
45 Bonzie Colson PF NOTRE 6’6″ 5.6
46 Rodions Kurucs SF FCB 6’8″ 3.6
47 Grayson Allen SG DUKE 6’5″ 4.0
48 Melvin Frazier SF TUL 6’6″ 3.0
49 Aaron Holiday PG UCLA 6’1″ 3.5
50 Bryant Crawford PG WAKE 6’3″ 5.3
51 Anfernee Simons SG N/A 6’4″ N/A
52 Omari Spellman C VILL 6’9″ 3.7
53 Allonzo Trier SG ZONA 6’5″ 3.4
54 Chimezie Metu C USC 6’11” 4.0
55 Raymond Spalding C LVILLE 6’10” 4.0
56 Hamidou Diallo SG KENT 6’5″ 2.3
57 Devonte’ Graham PG KANS 6’2″ 3.1
58 Justin Jackson SF MARY 6’7″ 2.1
59 Malik Newman SG KANS 6’3″ 2.7
60 Issuf Sanon SG OLI 6’3″ 3.1

Studying Abroad 2018

Before jumping in, I made a few notable changes to improve the international projections. FIBA tournaments and other junior-level competitions are no longer included; only stats from professional leagues beginning with each player’s first draft-eligible season. This narrows the focus of the projections, rewards guys playing in high-level leagues overseas, and puts them on more equal footing with NCAA prospects. Here is how DMX ranks the internationals in the latest ESPN 2018 mock draft:

Screen Shot 2018-05-15 at 12.01.16 PM


Luka Doncic

Slovenian prodigy Luka Doncic is not only the top-rated player in this draft class, but also stands as the DMX “GOAT”, and by a significant margin. Doncic is posting unheard of all-around production (23.7 PTS, 8.6 REB, 7.6 AST, 1.9 STL, 0.5 BLK Per 40 minutes) against what could be the toughest possible non-NBA schedule between the Spanish ACB and Euroleague. DMX is largely built on precedent and there is none for a teenager dominating the highest levels of international play. As much as I like Jaren Jackson as a potential defensive anchor with offensive upside, Doncic stands out to me as the most unique and special talent in this draft. Even if Luka is not a combination of Bird and Magic as his DMX would suggest, he could be a Gordon Hayward type which is a solid enough return on the top pick.

Dzanan Musa

Currently ranked between picks 20-26 on ESPN, The Stepien, and NBADraft.net, Bosnain bucket-getter Dzanan Musa strikes me as a candidate to be a draft-day steal. He is one of the youngest players in the draft, has good size for a perimeter player at 6’8″, and was highly productive and efficient on a good Adriatic League team. Even with valid concerns about his frame and defense, late first round seems pessimistic to me.

Isaac Bonga

Isaac Bonga is another Euro prospect that I think is oddly underrated. Bonga was once a projected lottery pick who is now regarded as a late-second rounder even though he fared well in the top German league as an 18-year-old. He also has an intriguing profile as a 6’9″ guy who can pass (4.6 AST/40) and potentially shoot (89.3 FT%). Just based on box score scouting, I don’t see why Bonga is rated some 20-30 spots lower than Oregon product Troy Brown (who I really like):

PLAYER POS LG DMX HT AGE PTS REB AST STL BLK TOV
Troy Brown SG/SF NCAA 5.2 6’7″ 18.9 14.5 8.0 4.1 2.0 0.3 3.2
Isaac Bonga SF BBL/PRO B 5.2 6’9″ 18.6 13.8 6.5 4.6 2.4 0.9 4.5

Elie Okobo

French PG Elie Okobo is a name picking up steam and for good reason. He has had a breakout year in the French Pro A, vaulting him into the top 25 overall in DMX. I have always been a fan of Okobo’s offensive game having watched him in FIBA tournaments and it seems like he has greatly improved. I think he’s a worthy choice in the late first/early second range.

Rodions Kurucs

It’s a bit disappointing that Rodi Kurucs only logged 56 minutes for FC Barcelona in his second draft-eligible season, but he has put up strong enough numbers in the Spanish second-division league (LEB Gold) to earn a top-50 grade. Kurucs is 6’9″, can shoot, and boasts a promising combination of steals (2.2/40) and blocks (1.4/40), albeit against weak competition. I would side with most draft boards that he is a mid-to-late 2nd rounder.

Issuf Sanon

Sanon is a really fun player who can play on the ball offensively and uses good instincts and athletic ability to rack up steals and blocks, but his shooting/scoring for a 6’4″ guard is a serious red flag. The Ukranian product has shot 26% from 3PT and 45% from the line this season (on just 1.8 FTA Per 40 minutes) and his scoring volume is outlier bad (11.7 PTS/40). Sanon will still be 18 on draft day and he is an NBA athlete, so he might be worth a late 2nd round flier for a team with a good shooting coach.

Karim Jallow

DMX is low on Jallow because he’s 21 and still playing mostly for Bayern Munich’s farm team, and with a sub-30 3PT% for his career I’m not sure he can be considered a 3&D prospect.

Amine Noua

Amine Noua has had a nice age 21 season in France, but his overall body of work does not merit drafting in my opinion. I would much rather take Gary Clark or a medically-cleared Bonzie Colson, a pair of NCAA power forwards who are not listed on ESPN’s latest mock.