Category Archives: NCAA

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 RealGM.com)


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 NBADraft.net). So without further ado, here are my NCAA sleepers to watch:

GUARDS


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.

konchar-john

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!

FORWARDS


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.

CENTER


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 NBADraft.net. 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.

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.

Screen Shot 2017-04-12 at 8.00.59 AM

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:

Screen Shot 2017-04-12 at 7.58.28 AM

#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.

Screen Shot 2017-04-12 at 7.53.59 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2017-04-12 at 8.04.34 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2017-04-12 at 9.02.43 AM

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)