Category Archives: NCAA

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.

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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.

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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.

The New Guard

Since the NBA raised its age limit to 19, NCAA “one-and-done” players have defined the top of the draft; from Oden and Durant, to Simmons vs. Ingram. Much like the 2014 draft was headlined by a crop of freshmen big men, this year’s class is rich in one particular resource: point guards.

Markelle Fultz
Position: PG
Height: 6’4”
School: Washington

If you are an avid reader of Hardwood Blues, you already know about Markelle Fultz, who I called the “best PG prospect since Kyrie Irving” before he had played a college game. Now that I have seen him at the NCAA level, there is no need to hold back; Fultz is a sure-fire stud and the obvious #1 overall pick. In broad strokes, Fultz reminds me of a subdued version of Russell Westbrook. He is a big, athletic point guard, an explosive scorer, a plus passer, and an aggressive albeit undisciplined defender.

When you consider that Fultz is literally twice as good as freshman-year Russ despite being a late bloomer in his own right, it wouldn’t shock me if he became an even better pro than Westbrook. This may seem crazy given that Westbrook is currently stuffing the box score at an historic rate, but it’s not like he’s the best player in the NBA. He’s not even the best point guard- Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, and James Harden are all clearly better in my opinion. A player with the aesthetics of Russell Westbrook and functional value closer to Chris Paul or Steph Curry could rule the NBA, and represents a far higher upside than any other prospect in this year’s draft.

Lonzo Ball
Position: PG
Height: 6’6”
School: UCLA

UCLA is college basketball’s most fascinating team. The unbeaten Bruins are loaded with offensive talent, play an entertaining, up-tempo style, and have a budding defensive anchor in Ike Anigbogu. The main event is Lonzo Ball (pictured), a 6-foot-6 Jason Kidd wannabe from Chino Hills, CA who drains cockeyed three-pointers from the parking lot.

Ball is definitely fun to watch, but whether or not he’ll actually be good in the NBA is still up for debate. He is not a good defensive player, which is where the (inevitable) Kidd comparison falls flat, and he struggles to score in the half-court when he’s not dropping bombs over the defense, in part because of shooting mechanics that…need work. In spite of that, I am a believer in Lonzo. He has a special skill-level and feel for the game and boasts a track record of leading dominant and exciting teams in high school and now in college. Ball’s flaws make him far inferior to Markelle Fultz, but he’s somewhere in my top five overall.

Dennis Smith Jr.
Position: PG
Height: 6’3”
School: NC State

Relative to expectations, Dennis Smith has been the most disappointing member of this freshman class. Something that hurts Smith in relation to Fultz and Ball, who possess outlier size and abilities, is that he is very cookie-cutter point guard. Unless he is still shaking off the after-affects of knee surgery (a distinct possibility), he is not a Derrick Rose/Eric Bledsoe-level athlete as advertised, and he doesn’t have any other plus skills that I can identify. Smith will likely get it going and improve his standing statistically (currently 14th overall in DMX, behind OK State’s Jawun Evans), but as of now there’s no way I’m taking him over Ball, and he’s not even in the same stratosphere as Fultz.

De’Aaron Fox
Position: PG
Height: 6’3”
School: Kentucky

Fox is far and away the best defender of the group, most notably getting the better of Lonzo Ball in their head-to-head matchup at Rupp Arena. De’Aaron is long, quick, and active and has flashy passing skills. Since I’m talking about him last, you already know what’s coming: he can’t shoot. As I’ve stated before, I have a soft spot for this prototype, probably to a fault.

PLAYER AGE PTS REB AST STL BLK TOV DMX
De’Aaron Fox 19.5 18.1 6.5 8.2 2.0 0.4 2.9 6.7
Kris Dunn 22.3 15.9 6.4 7.3 2.7 0.5 4.2 5.9
Elfrid Payton 20.3 16.9 6.0 5.8 2.3 0.6 4.0 5.2
Marcus Smart 20.3 19.3 6.8 5.2 3.4 0.7 3.3 9.3

Kris Dunn, Elfrid Payton, and Marcus Smart are all players who I enjoy, but they haven’t shown to be particularly useful in the NBA and you could argue that all three were over-drafted. Smart has the most optimistic outlook, and he projected far better than Fox coming out of college. Fox is a solid mid first-rounder.