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.

screen-shot-2017-03-01-at-11-39-24-am

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.

2016 Hardwood Blues All-Americans

HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT

Tyler Dorsey – SG
HT: 6’4”
SCHOOL: Oregon
DMX: 4.3

As a freshman, Tyler Dorsey (pictured) scored 13.4 PPG on 57% true shooting, helping Oregon earn a surprise #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The previous summer, Dorsey dazzled at the FIBA U-19 World Championships where he posted averages of 15 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 1.3 turnovers in under 26 minutes per game. This impressive resume is reflected in Dorsey’s DMX, which places him in the top-25 returning NCAA prospects, but is not shared by the scouting consensus.

Dorsey was left out of Upside and Motor’s terrific  “Sophomore Crush” series, which highlighted ten of the best second-year players. Even more egregious is DraftExpress, which ranks Dorsey as the 34th best NCAA sophomore. Though small for a two guard, Dorsey has the requisite ball handling and three-point shooting ability (41.8% in NCAA/FIBA) to potentially play the point next to someone like Draymond Green or Ben Simmons.

DEEP CUTS

Kentrell Barkley – SF
HT: 6’5”
SCHOOL: Eastern Carolina
DMX: 3.8

My favorite long shot prospect is Kentrell Barkley, a lefty forward with swaying dreadlocks and arms that hang by his kneecaps. Barkley posted intriguing all-around numbers as a 19-year-old freshman in a half-decent conference. A list of statistical comparisons (among drafted players) going back to 2002 includes John Salmons, Andre Iguodala, Matt Barnes, and Solomon Hill.

Jeremy Morgan – SG
HT: 6’5”
SCHOOL: Northern Iowa
DMX: 3.9

Jeremy Morgan made national highlights when he poured in 36 points in Nothern Iowa’s stunning loss to Texas A&M in the NCAA tournament.

Morgan, whose 3.9 DMX currently puts him at 42nd overall in the 2017 draft, could be poised for a breakout senior year after playing the last two seasons in the shadow of mid-major stars Seth Tuttle and Wes Washpun.

Doral Moore – C
HT: 7’1”
SCHOOL: Wake Forest
DMX: 5.2

Doral Moore played just 213 minutes as a freshman, posting dominant Per 40 numbers of 20.5 points, 13.8 rebounds, and 4.3 blocks. He is likely a small sample size fluke, but I am also open to the possibility that he’s sort of a beast. I assume Moore will see a much larger role as a sophomore, so we should find out quickly if he regresses or is worth taking seriously.

HAIL MARY

Tra-Deon Hollins – PG
HT: 6’2”
SCHOOL: Nebraska-Omaha
DMX: 4.5

Another way to trick DMX besides being 7’1” and playing 200 minutes of garbage time is to have an exorbitant steals rate. As I’ve likely mentioned before, steals are a good indicator for basketball prospects because they reflect athleticism and awareness while also generally being good plays. As a first-year junior at UNO, Tra-Deon Hollins collected 4.4 steals per 40 minutes, this in addition to 5.3 rebounds and 6.8 assists. A little research also shows that Tra-Deon led Division II in steals as a freshman in 2013-14.

The only precedent I can think of for such a prolific ball hawk is Briante Weber, who for four years was the face of Shaka Smart’s “Havoc” full-court press. Weber’s absurd 4.9 steals per 40 minutes earned him a 6.1 DMX, which is lottery pick level. Outliers happen and Briante Weber clearly was not lottery material, but it’s worth noting that he appeared for Memphis last season as an undrafted rookie and caught on with Miami after a stellar summer league. In all, it was probably a small mistake that he went undrafted, and maybe one day we’ll say the same about Tra-Deon Hollins.

FIBA’s Finest 2016

When Kevin Durant and Team USA took the podium to receive their gold medals, it marked not only the end of the Olympics, but of a summer of FIBA tournaments. Beginning with the U17 Worlds in June and concluding with Saturday’s thrilling U16 European championship game, the best young players from across the globe have been competing for their junior national teams in small-scale versions of the Rio games. Here is a breakdown of some of the standout performers, along with their early DMX grades (the complete model for reference):

1st TEAM

G: Markelle Fultz (USA)
FIBA Exp.: 109 minutes (2016 U18 Americas)
FIBA DMX: 13.3

Another small sample size, another shroud of evidence that Markelle Fultz is the best PG prospect since Kyrie Irving. Fultz has moved to #1 in DraftExpress’ 2017 mock draft, in part due to his dominant play at the U18 Americas tournament. I captured some of his finest moments for your enjoyment.

G: Collin Sexton (USA)
FIBA Exp.: 113 minutes (2016 U17 Worlds)
FIBA DMX: 9.1

If I had to pick a star-making performance of the FIBA junior national games, I’d lean towards Collin Sexton (pictured) in the U17 championship game against Turkey. In a 20-minute adrenaline rush, the 6-footer scored 16 points (8-9 FG) and dished out 8 assists. Beyond the box score, Sexton plays with an energy, flair, and fearlessness from the point guard position that is distinctly Westbrook-ian.

F: Dzanan Musa (Bosnia)
FIBA Exp.: 876 minutes (2014 U16 Euros, 2015 U16 Euros, 2016 U17 Worlds)
FIBA DMX: 7.2

Dzanan Musa played the role of one-man team for a Bosnian squad that likely wouldn’t have qualified for the tournament without him. Musa, a highly skilled offensive player, was mostly up to the task, including a 50-point outburst against Chinese Taipei. After three FIBA tournaments and a 2016 season in which he appeared in Euroleague at age 16, Musa is one of the highest rated international prospects in the world (6.8 DMX overall).

F: Michael Porter Jr. (USA)
FIBA Exp.: 105 (2016 U18 Americas)
FIBA DMX: 10.7

Young Michael Porter Jr. looked the part of a future #1 pick, putting on a show alongside Markelle Fultz in the U18s. Porter is a futuristic prototype; a 6’10” forward who can handle, shoot threes (6-20 3PT), and explode for transition dunks. With Porter already in tow for next year’s recruiting class, Washington’s Lorenzo Romar may have bagged the #1 pick in back-to-back years.

C: Usman Garuba (Spain)
FIBA Exp.: 203 minutes (2016 U16 Euros)
FIBA DMX: 8.7

Spain’s Usman Garuba took U16 MVP honors and had one of the most dominant FIBA runs of the summer by anyone not on Team USA…as a 14-year old. One can’t help but question the validity of Garuba’s birth certificate, given how big and good he is, although this would be an unnecessarily bold lie. Either way, Garuba is a stellar defender, rebounder, and finisher who could develop into a Tristan Thompson type.

2nd TEAM

G: Troy Brown (USA)
FIBA Exp.: 166 minutes (2016 U17 Worlds)
FIBA DMX: 8.8

Brown is not a great scorer at this stage, but he was arguably Team USA’s best all-around player in the U17 Worlds. At 6’6”, Brown has the versatility to run the offense (5.1 assists per 40 minutes) or play alongside smaller guards like Collin Sexton and Markus Howard.

G: R.J. Barrett (Canada)
FIBA Exp.: 307 minutes (2015 U16 Americas, 2016 U17 Worlds)
FIBA DMX: 4.7

Just a rising sophomore at Montverde Basketball Factory, Barrett profiles similarly to the last big thing out of Canada, Andrew Wiggins. Barrett is an athletic, five-star swingman without any particular outlier skills. For what it’s worth, R.J. has outperformed Wiggins at the FIBA level:

PLAYER FIBA Exp. PTS REB AST STL BLK TOV DMX
R.J. Barrett 307 minutes 26.3 7.2 3.1 1.4 0.8 4.0 4.7
Andrew Wiggins 289 minutes 20.0 7.3 1.8 1.0 1.8 3.2 3.2

F: P.J. Washington (USA)
FIBA Exp.: 89 minutes (2016 U18 Americas)
FIBA DMX: 9.1

Like Troy Brown, Washington was an un-celebrated role player with an absurd small sample size DMX. Washington, who possesses impressive court vision for a teenaged big man, picked up eight assists and nine steals in less than 90 minutes of court time.

F: Lauri Markkanen (Finland)
FIBA Exp.: 818 minutes (2013 U16B Euros, 2014 U18B Euros, 2015 U18 Euros, 2016 U20 Euros)
FIBA DMX: 7.1

It was tough to leave Markkanen off the first team in favor of Musa, who I couldn’t in good conscious pass off as a guard. The best hooper from Finland in who knows how long, Lauri will try to carry the momentum of a big summer into a highly anticipated freshman year at Arizona.

C: Wendell Carter Jr. (USA)
FIBA Exp.: 217 minutes (2015 U16 Americas, 2016 U17 Worlds)
FIBA DMX: 7.7

The biggest difference between USA Basketball and other countries at the junior level are man-children like Wendell Carter Jr., who has been a dominant scorer and rebounder for two gold medal squads.

The Hardwood Blues 2016 NBA Draft Big Board

RK PLAYER POS TEAM HT DMX COMP
1 Ben Simmons PF LSU 6’10” 9.9 Blake Griffin
2 Brandon Ingram SF DUKE 6’9″ 9.0 Carmelo Anthony
3 Dragan Bender PF MACC 7’1″ 6.0 Al Horford
4 Jakob Poeltl C UTAH 7’0″ 8.0 Roy Hibbert
5 Kris Dunn PG PROV 6’3″ 5.9 Ricky Rubio –
6 Jamal Murray SG KENT 6’5″ 7.3 Marcus Thornton +
7 Marquese Chriss PF WASH 6’9″ 6.7 Anthony Randolph
8 Wade Baldwin IV PG VANDY 6’3″ 6.7 Jarrett Jack
9 Henry Ellenson PF MARQ 6’10” 6.3 David Lee
10 Furkan Korkmaz SG EFES 6’7″ 5.3 Sasha Pavlovic
11 Deyonta Davis PF/C MSU 6’10” 7.1 John Henson +
12 Denzel Valentine SG MSU 6’5″ 4.6 Evan Turner
13 Jaylen Brown SF CAL 6’7″ 4.2 Jordan Hamilton
14 Timothe Luwawu SG MEG 6’7″ 2.8 Wesley Matthews
15 Domantas Sabonis PF GONZ 6’10” 4.9 Julius Randle
16 Chinanu Onuaku C LVILLE 6’10” 6.3 Nerlens Noel –
17 Ante Zizic C CIB 6’11” 7.0 Marreese Speights
18 Brice Johnson PF/C UNC 6’9″ 6.6 J.J. Hickson
19 Buddy Hield SG OKLA 6’4″ 4.1 P.J. Hairston
20 Ivica Zubac C MEG 7’0″ 5.7 Brook Lopez
21 Skal Labissiere C KENT 7’0″ 4.3 Festus Ezeli +
22 Patrick McCaw SG UNLV 6’6″ 5.6 Iman Shumpert
23 Taurean Prince SF BAY 6’7″ 4.4 Robert Covington
24 Diamond Stone C MARY 6’11” 7.6 Kosta Koufos
25 Cheick Diallo C KANS 6’9″ 5.7 Larry Sanders
26 Dejounte Murray PG/SG WASH 6’5″ 5.2 Ray McCallum
27 Stephen Zimmerman C UNLV 7’0″ 4.6 Alex Len
28 Rade Zagorac SF MEG 6’9″ 3.5 James Ennis
29 Deandre Bembry SF JOES 6’6″ 4.1 Khris Middleton
30 Zhou Qi C XIN 7’1″ 5.5 Javale McGee
31 Malik Beasley SG FSU 6’5″ 5.9 Jeremy Lamb
32 Isaia Cordinier SG DEN 6’5″ 4.4 Mardy Collins
33 Tyler Ulis PG KENT 5’9″ 5.0 Jonny Flynn
34 Gary Payton II PG ORST 6’3″ 5.4 Delon Wright
35 Juan Hernangomez SF/PF EST 6’9″ 4.0 Jarell Martin
36 Caris LeVert SG MICH 6’7″ 4.4 Luther Head
37 Demetrius Jackson PG NOTRE 6’1″ 3.8 Luke Ridnour
38 Troy Williams SF IND 6’7″ 4.0 Landry Fields
39 Damian Jones C VANDY 6’11” 4.3 B.J. Mullens
40 Fred VanVleet PG WICH 6’0″ 4.7 Raymond Felton
41 Kahlil Felder PG OAK 5’9″ 4.8 Pierre Jackson
42 Derrick Jones Jr. SF UNLV 6’7″ 6.7 Donte Green
43 Thon Maker PF CAN 7’0″ 4.1 Perry Jones III
44 Isaiah Whitehead PG/SG HALL 6’4″ 4.2 Ben Gordon
45 Malachi Richardson SG CUSE 6’6″ 3.5 Archie Goodwin
46 Robert Carter Jr. PF MARY 6’9″ 3.6 Trevor Booker
47 Petr Cornelie PF LEM 6’11” 3.0 Kevin Seraphin
48 Daniel Hamilton SF UCONN 6’7″ 4.2 Terrence Williams
49 Georgios Papagiannis C PAN 7’1″ 5.1 Stanko Barac
50 Pascal Siakam PF NMSU 6’9″ 4.6 JaMychal Green
51 A.J. Hammons C PUR 7’0″ 3.1 Keith Benson
52 Ron Baker SG WICH 6’4″ 4.0 E’Twaun Moore
53 Malcolm Brogdon SG VIRG 6’5″ 2.8 Randy Foye
54 Ben Bentil SF/PF PROV 6’8″ 3.7 Justin Harper
55 Paul Zipser SF FCBA 6’8″ 2.7 Solomon Hill
56 Guerschon Yabusele PF SPO 6’8″ 2.7 Jerami Grant
57 Alex Caruso PG TA&M 6’5″ 5.3 T.J. McConnell
58 Aleksa Avramovic PG BOR 6’3″ 5.2 Rodney Stuckey –
59 Daniel Ochefu C VILL 6’11” 4.1 Mason Plumlee
60 Jameel Warney C SBU 6’8″ 4.6 Jason Thompson