Predicting what will happen to a bunch of 19 and 20-year-olds is really hard, especially when it comes to the NBA. Every year tons of teams make mistakes, either drafting someone who never turns into anybody or passing on a future star. Delineating blame between poor player evaluation and poor player development is basically impossible, but either way, teams mess up, a lot. The same can be said for fans and writers alike, and it is easy to find examples of every major draft writer being wildly wrong about a player. This is my first year writing about the draft, and I’ve only been paying heavy attention to it for a couple years, but my list of personal mistakes is already mounting.
I would’ve taken Joel Embiid over Andrew Wiggins. I didn’t think Rodney Hood deserved to go in the first round. I thought Jordan Clarkson should’ve gone undrafted (ouch). I never thought Shabazz Muhammad would amount to anything in the NBA. I thought Shane Larkin would be better than Dennis Schroeder. I didn’t think Mason Plumlee should’ve been a first-rounder. I could go on and on, considering this is only two year’s worth of drafts. I’ve also been pleasantly surprised with how many of my thoughts on the draft have worked out, but the point is that predicting the draft is really hard. However, I wouldn’t keep this site going if I didn’t have the hubris that I can somehow do better than most people at predicting the draft by combining traditional in-depth scouting with draft models to reach a slightly more accurate big board.
For this piece, I’m separating into two different types of predictions, “confident” and “crazy”. Confident predictions are ones that I think have at least a >50% chance of happening, but many I’m still not all that “confident” in. Crazy predictions are those that I think have a significantly higher chance of coming to fruition than most would, but still are all under 50% likely to happen in my mind.
One or more of Karl Towns, D’Angelo Russell, and Jahlil Okafor will make an All-NBA team in their career: I’m not sure exactly how out there this prediction is, but for reference I would not have made the same prediction with greater than 50% confidence about last year’s top three of Wiggins, Parker, and Embiid. My reasoning here is pretty simple, I like all of these guys as prospects and think they all have realistic ceiling as All-NBA type players, so at least one of them will hit close enough to their ceiling to make an All-NBA team.
Either D’Angelo Russell or Jahlil Okafor will be better than Karl Towns: I posted this question on twitter a couple weeks ago, and answers were fairly evenly split between the two responses. Since I see Russell and Okafor both pretty close to Towns, odds wise, it makes sense that one of them would likely end up superior to him. Obviously if I had to choose one guy to have the best career I’d pick Towns, but if I’m given both Okafor and Russell I’ll take the field of them two and not look back.
Sam Hinkie will not draft Kristaps Porzingis 3rd: Oddsmakers would probably agree that this has a >50% chance of happening, but for some reason, I am very confident in this respect. Hinkie has traditionally aligned somewhat with draft model preferences at the top of the draft, and while some models like Porzingis, most do not see him as a top-3 talent so I’d be pretty surprised if Hinkie went this direction. In a much more cocky way, I think I’m right about Porzingis not being a top-3 type of talent, and I think Sam Hinkie is really smart about the draft, so I would have to re-evaluate one of those two opinions if Hinkie does end up making me look foolish tonight.
Justise Winslow will be a very good player by advanced +/- numbers: I’m not sure Winslow’s traditional box score numbers will ever be that impressive, but he impacts the game in so many ways on both ends of the court and seems to just make winning plays at every level he’s every played at. Much like Andre Iguodala before this year’s finals, Winslow may never get the respect he deserves, but he will consistently year in and year out be making his teams noticeably better.
Justise Winslow, Mario Hezonja, and Stanley Johnson will all last as at least solid NBA players: Three players picked in the 5-12 range are not all likely to succeed, but I’m pretty confident in each of these three at least turning into something in the NBA. All of these guys have the physical attributes to succeed in the league, and they all strike me as some of the more driven and hard-working prospects as well.
Mario Hezonja will either participate in a Dunk Contest or Three-Point Contest in his career: To be clear, this prediction isn’t ruling out the possibility that he could take part in both contests, just saying that he will be included in at least one of them. Mario might be the most fun player in this draft with his combination of dunking, shooting, and crazy bravado, and I’m more excited to watch him in the NBA than just about anyone else.
Frank Kaminsky will be better than Kristaps Porzingis: I only have them one spot apart on my board, so I don’t see the chances as much more than 50%, but I do think they are greater than 50%, and most would probably disagree with that statement. Porzingis is bigger, longer, and more athletic than Kaminsky with similar shooting ability, but Kaminsky’s basketball IQ and feel for the game is far superior to Staps. Porzingis will probably be better on the defensive end, but Kaminsky’s vision and decision making will make him a much more difficult cover than Porzingis, and ultimately a slightly better player.
One of Porzingis, Towns, and Myles Turner will be a true rim protecting stretch 5 (BLK%>5.0, 3P%>36.0) : I think all of them can come close, but what I mean here is someone who is truly an effective volume shooter from three and a premier rim protector. The only guy in the NBA currently who honestly has that skillset, and has reached those statistical thresholds, is Ibaka, and one of these guys will join his ranks. All of these guys can be good players without doing both skills at an elite level, especially Towns, but at least one of them will be essentially the first 5 in the modern NBA to do both things.
Delon Wright will be better than Jerian Grant: I already wrote a full post on this debate, so I don’t need to go too in-depth here, but this is one of my more confident predictions. I really think Wright is basically Grant’s equal on the offensive end and leaps and bounds ahead defensively. Maybe the general public will continue to see Grant as better, but I bet advanced metrics such as RPM and BPM will favor Wright.
Kelly Oubre will be better than Devin Booker: A couple months ago this wouldn’t have seemed particularly out there, but their draft “stocks” have trended in opposite directions, and now most would probably suggest Booker is going to be better. Booker is the better shooter, but I think Oubre is superior in every other area, both scoring off the dribble, and defensively. Defense, in particular, is where the huge gap lies, and Booker’s shooting alone won’t propel him over the more well-rounded Oubre.
Bobby Portis or Trey Lyles will heavily disappoint and bust: I’ve seen a fair amount of people suggest that both these guys should be late lottery picks because they’re so safe as prospects. I agree with the thought that Portis is very safe, but I don’t on Lyles, and Portis isn’t so safe that I don’t see the odds tilting in favor of one of them busting.
Christian Wood or Robert Upshaw will stick in the NBA: Both of these guys have cascaded down mocks of late, but I still really trust in each of their talents, particularly Wood. It would be foolish to suggest neither of them will bust with their heavy off court concerns, but at least one of them will end up getting it together and exceeding expectations as an NBA player.
None of the LSU or Louisville guys will really make it in the NBA: The guys I’m referring to are Jordan Mickey, Montrezl Harrell, Jarell Martin, and Terry Rozier, all mocked to go in either the late first round or early second. This isn’t a particularly bold prediction considering where they’re projected to go, but I’m down on all 4 of them, and don’t think any of them will be anything more than bit guys on an NBA team.
That’s 13 “confident” predictions, so hopefully I can get at least 7 of them right.
Crazy Predictions – Most of these will probably be wildly wrong, maybe a couple will be close to true.
Jahlil Okafor will be the NBA’s best Center: I’m a true Okafor fan, or at least a true fan of his upside. I do think he has high chance of not being very good, which is why I have him 3rd, but I also think he has crazy high upside that he has a small, but legitimate, chance of reaching. My reasoning for this is simple, Okafor might be the most coordinated big guy in the whole NBA. His level of coordination is that freaky good, and if he can somehow become a really smart team defender and use his coordination to score with high volume and efficiency he could wind up as the league’s best center.
D’Angelo Russell will be a bust: I clearly don’t think this is very likely, considering I’ve written multiple times about how I see him as a very safe prospect, and I didn’t put him in the “bust” group in Tuesday’s post. I do think he is very safe due to his shooting, passing, and feel for the game, but I also think there is an ever so slight chance he can’t make things work in the NBA because he just doesn’t have the quickness to create separation. Judging quickness in game is hard, and I’m pretty sure Russell is fine in that department, but I do have a slight nag in the back of my head where at times he just didn’t look quick enough to keep up in the NBA. I do believe there is some sort of minimum threshold for “burst” that almost all NBA guards need to have, and a small part of me feels that Russell might not quite have it.
Delon Wright leads all rookies in either BPM or RPM: He’s old, and he’s got an NBA-ready, well-rounded skill set. In many ways, I’m stealing this prediction from Layne Vashro, who has made similar in the past, but I do believe it has a pretty good chance of happening. Wright won’t be the best 3 years from now, but next year he could easily be the best of all these rookies.
Tyus Jones will be a complete bust: This isn’t that bold of a prediction, but considering I’ve been talking him up so much I think this is a point worth noting. I like Tyus because I think he has a fair amount of upside of being a good starter in the league, but he also has scary downside. He’s quicker than Russell, but his lack of vertical athleticism or size could prevent him from ever succeeding in a way similar to my concerns with Russell. He’s billed as a “safe” pick, but it is far more likely Tyus will either flame out or turn into a really good value for his draft slot.
Stanley Johnson will be a multi-time all-star: Johnson’s lack of elite burst around the rim hurts his game, and prevents him from having true superstar upside, but he’s still a good athlete, and has an advanced enough skill set for his age that he could be a mid-level all-star like Joe Johnson, or maybe even Paul Pierce level good. He’s not great in any one area so I don’t love him, but guys as well-rounded as him don’t come very often, and his situation surrounded by non-shooters at Arizona could’ve hindered his offensive output more than I realize. There are a few guys in this draft who I feel like I might be underrating, and Johnson is at the top of that list.
None of Devin Booker, R.J. Hunter, and Rashad Vaughn will amount to anything of real value in the NBA: Again, this isn’t a super bold prediction, but still one most would probably disagree with. All of these guys are deeply flawed on the defensive end, and I don’t particularly like any of their offensive games outside of their shooting. Hunter because he lacks burst, Vaughn due to decision making, and Booker due to lacking both burst and handles. It is also unlikely any of these guys will be truly elite, J.J. Redick, Klay Thompson, Kyle Korver, Ray Allen level of shooters, so it’s going to be tough for them to find ways to be beneficial presences for their NBA teams.
Justin Anderson will be one of the three best wings in this draft: Anderson falls into the same camp as Johnson where I feel like I might be underrating him, but I’ve managed to convince myself that where I have him now is best. I don’t love his defense or his shooting, but there are good reasons to think both actually could be really good in the NBA, and if so he’s going to be a really valuable. Anderson shot over 45% from three on a high volume of attempts this past season, is a really freaky athlete who played on one of the nation’s best defenses, and is a good decision maker on offense. There’s a lot more nuance to scouting his game than just that, but looking at those statements at face value it’s hard to not think he might be underrated.
I’m going to be really wrong about Kevon Looney: This is basically a hedge on my having him at 14, but I just get inexplicable bad feelings when I watch Looney play. I can’t really articulate what I don’t like about him so I didn’t let it change my ranking much, but I just don’t like watching him play basketball. I really can’t think of a better way to explain it, and there’s a lot to like about his game looking at it from a more formal perspective, but I’ve just never been very impressed with him aesthetically.
Chris McCullough is going to be really good: This is basically the opposite of my take on Looney, I don’t have any way of articulating my reasoning, but McCullough just gives me good feelings when I watch him play. He’s just an incredibly smooth athlete running down the floor, and it’s visually appealing. This feeling didn’t change my view on him at all, but if we look back and see that he turned into more than was expected I might place a little more emphasis on athletic fluidity running up and down the court in future evaluations.
Robert Upshaw will lead the NBA in BLK% for at least one season: I’m not sure quite enough people realize just how ridiculously good a rim protector Upshaw was this past year at Washington. His BLK% of 17.4% is the best of anyone to get drafted since 2010 (when sports-reference started tracking BLK%) other than Hassan Whiteside, and Hassan Whiteside did it at Marshall, while Upshaw was at Washington. I don’t know if anyone is going to catch Gobert in the next five years or so, but Upshaw’s length, athleticism, and timing give him a shot at doing so.
One of the Harrison twins becomes a good NBA player: From watching them I consider Andrew the far superior prospect, but they both look like NBA rotation guys in Layne Vashro’s model, and when you factor in them both being top-10 RSCI guys there’s a fair chance the draft community has turned on them too much. I don’t even think Aaron is worth drafting, but the combination of solid numbers and high pre-college hopes suggests the scouting community might be acting irrationally about these two.
Vince Hunter is the biggest steal of the draft: There are some significant obstacles to Hunter succeeding in the NBA, but if he can somehow turn his jump shot into a ~34% threat from three he could really be a dangerous player. He’s got the athleticism, instincts, and strength to be a Draymond Green-lite type of player who can switch around the perimeter and battle inside, and though he lacks wingspan compared to Draymond, he’s a much bouncier athlete. Offensively a semi-consistent jumper combined with his great feel for finishing around the rim, cutting, and offensive rebounding could make him a valuable player, and he could turn into a player +/- models love like Draymond or Amir Johnson.
Briante Weber goes overseas or to the D-League, impresses, and ends up finding a role in the NBA: This is a real long shot, but his defensive instincts and ability are so off the charts that I could really see him fitting as a specialist in the league. If he can make his jump shot more consistent, and an NBA team gives him a real shot, I’d bet on him finding a way to make an impact.
Zhou Qi ends up better than Kristaps Porzingis: You’re probably wondering, who is Zhou Qi? And if you do know who he is, you probably think I’m crazy. Qi is a projected late lottery or mid-first rounder in next year’s draft, and possesses similar size and athleticism to Porzingis, along with a pretty good jumper (not as good as Porzingis though). Still, from what I’ve seen Qi has a better feel for the game, and much better timing as an interior defender. Porzingis has a huge edge in shooting and reputation, but the odds Qi ends up as the superior player are probably better than you think, if you have any idea who he is.
Emmanuel Mudiay wins Rookie of the Year: This prediction could easily change after tonight based on what situations different guys go to, but Mudiay seems like the type of player who could win ROY. If a team puts the ball in his hands and gives him heavy minutes he is going to turn it over a fair amount, he’ll probably be inefficient, he’ll be mistake prone on D, and he could easily put up very good numbers in the traditional PTS-AST-REB categories. This is as much a bet on voter stupidity as it is Mudiay, Mudiay won’t be the best rookie, but he could easily have the most impressive rookie season from a box score stat perspective.
The Spurs will draft Juan Vaulet, and everyone else will regret passing on him: If you want to read the full story that gave me this idea, I seriously recommend this fun conspiracy theory style article about Vaulet. Essentially, the article boils down to a couple points. NBA teams did not expect Vaulet to keep his name in the draft because he wasn’t a well-known prospect, so many teams speculate he could have received a promise from some team in the second round. Little is known about Vaulet, but he does play for the same Argentinean club as one Manu Ginobli did, and the team is coached by Manu Ginobli’s own brother. So, the article concludes the Spurs may have unearthed some gem no one else knows about. Additionally, it is not mentioned in the article, but in his limited play in FIBA youth tournaments Vaulet does score as a solid late first/early second type of prospect, though the minute sample is small.
That’s all I have for now, but I might do another prediction piece next fall focusing on specifically their rookie years. Tomorrow I’ll also have team grades and thoughts on the draft, and how it may change my view on some prospects’ outlooks. I’m incredibly excited for tonight, and if you’re reading this site you probably are also, so join me in getting ready for Jay Bilas to justify the name of this site over and over again, and let’s see how everything shakes out.