Compared to the SG/SF wings, I diverge far less from consensus when it comes to the bigger wings/small ball 4’s. I already wrote about Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram in detail here, so I won’t be focusing on them in this piece. Again, I’m going to analyze the players in order of their DraftExpress rankings before re-ordering them into my own rankings.
Jaylen Brown – Freshman – 19.6 years old – California
Brown is one of the more divisive prospects in this year’s draft, and it is easy to see why. Analytic models absolutely hate him – some see him as not even being a top-60 prospect in this year’s class – but he’s got the type of physical tools and high school pedigree that still leaves him in the top-5 discussion. In a situation like this, I tend to side with the more analytic folk, recognizing that basketball isn’t just about how a player looks in warmups, but in Brown’s case things are far more complicated.
Let’s start with the defensive side of the floor, where Brown is mired in a battle of potential vs. production. As a long armed athletic beast with a strong frame Brown absolutely has the potential to guard 1-4 at a high level. However, from both a statistical perspective and the eye test Brown was not a very good defender this past year. He had some super impressive blocks and sequences where he would slide with guys right in their grill, but he generally was unfocused off the ball and took bad angles on the ball that allowed opponents to penetrate past him.
His lack of awareness off the ball is almost as concerning as his lack of instincts on the ball. Brown is reportedly a very smart kid, so theoretically he should be able to really study the defensive end and gain greater understanding of how to guard both on-ball and off, but there is a real chance he just doesn’t have the type of spatial awareness or anticipation to ever be a good defender. Brown is good enough athletically that he won’t be mercilessly attacked off the floor, but there’s a real chance he’s a Rudy Gay/Jeff Green type of negative defender despite his overwhelming physical tools.
His reported IQ off the court and prescient timing he showed on some of his blocks gives me some hope, but I would bet Brown is a long term slight minus on the defensive end. I wouldn’t say he has elite defensive upside because he showed no advanced feel for defense in college, but he does at least have the upside of being a reasonable plus on that end of the floor.
Offensively, it is important to evaluate Brown’s atrocious numbers in the context of both his team and his decision making. Cal’s starting lineup featured only one player who shot >33% from beyond the arc, and they typically played with two traditional big men on the court. The result was a pretty darn cramped floor, and not much space for Brown to attack the rim.
Brown obviously was part of the problem, and his combination of poor free throw shooting with poor outside shooting is a huge concern. However, Brown’s 3pt% prior to college was much better, and while his base and elevation on his shot are kind of funky, his upper body mechanics are pretty solid. Brown’s percentages from deep are also dragged down by him taking way more off-the-dribble threes than he should have – which is both a black mark against his decision making and a sign of small optimism in his raw shooting ability.
Whether or not Brown develops even a 33% shot from deep will obviously be huge for his NBA future. Without it, he can probably only provide value to a team in a role as a small-ball 4, and he will need to really step things up on the defensive end. With the shot, he could comfortably play the 3 or 4 and would really open up his whole offensive game. I would put it at <50% he becomes a 33% shooter from three, but I do think his chances are higher than most non-shooting prospects.
The rest of Brown’s offensive game is really intriguing. He’s an awful decision maker who forces up pull-up jump shots and drives into traffic, but his raw combination of first step, decent handles, solid passing vision, and explosion at the rim is super impressive. Brown’s questionable decision making and feel resulted in him posting awful efficiency and turnover numbers, but the fact he even shouldered a 31.4% usage rate as a freshman on such a cramped floor is pretty impressive.
Unlike Rudy Gay or Jeff Green he actually has some real passing ability, and his ability to get to the rim is truly elite for a wing. The question is whether a better-spaced offense and a more confined role will allow Brown to eliminate the turnovers and shoddy shot selection from his game.
It’s really hard to come to a conclusion on a guy like Brown. I have little doubt he’s going to have a long NBA career and get paid like a pretty good player, but I’m not all that confident he will ever actually be worth what he gets paid. Last year in college he just wasn’t all that good, and there’s a real chance he’s a negative player who drags his team’s down for years to come. However, I don’t think he’s someone who’s just going to fall to the back end of the rotation like say Buddy Hield.
Basically, I’m betting on the stupidity of NBA team’s giving Brown minutes, and also recognizing that he has a lot of avenues to become somewhere between a decent and good NBA player. Noticeable improvement in one of the three of defense, shooting, or decision making would allow him to be a solid 5th or 6th man, and if he were to improve even more he could legitimately be a very good NBA player.
I don’t think Brown is a top-5 pick, but he’s got enough paths to success that I’m comfortable selecting him in the back half of the lottery. I know some of my draft friends are a lot harsher on him and I understand that position, I just think he has actual upside that the other overrated lottery guys (Hield, Murray, Skal) lack.
Taurean Prince – Senior – 21.8 years old – Baylor
Whew okay that was wayyy too many words on one player. Jaylen Brown is a complicated dude. Taurean Prince is a much more straightforward prospect. His potential is basically Demarre Carroll last year on the Hawks (yes appearance bias is affecting that comparison). He’s got the body and athleticism to play the 3 or 4, play good versatile defense, space the floor on offense, and even add in a little extra juice attacking the basket.
If I knew Prince would bring that package to the NBA he would absolutely be a top-10 pick. Also, it’s worth mentioning his handles and vision are pretty darn good for a player in the 3-and-D small ball 4 mold. However, there are enough questions with both the 3 and the D element of Prince’s game to be considerably less high on him.
Coming from 4 years of Baylor’s zone defense it is really hard to know what type of defensive player he will be at the next level. He was rangy and active in the zone, but he also was a little out of control and the few times they switched to man he didn’t really seem like he knew what he was doing. There’s nothing obvious to prevent Prince from being a good NBA defender, but I would bet on him being much closer to just average because guys coming from 4 years of zone simply have a lot of catching up to do at the next level.
When it comes to shooting the basketball Prince is a good enough free throw and off-the-dribble shooter that I’m pretty confident in his shot translating, but his form is a little ugly and he never shot the ball *that* well at the college level. There’s a good chance he’s more of just a respected outside shooter than someone who actually commands attention like Carroll did last season.
That’s the thing with Prince, he can be ~average on both ends of the ball, but ~average doesn’t translate to starter impact. Carroll was an actual plus defender who shot the ball really well from deep, Prince has a ways to go to do either of those things. Instead, he settles in as a good wing rotation piece with some small starter upside, making him worth a mid-late first selection.
Juan Hernangomez – Spain – 20.7 years old – Estudiantes (International)
I admittedly have not watched all that much of Hernangomez, but I felt like I was able to reach a conclusion on him pretty quickly. The good with him is pretty simple. He’s a good leaper with some strength to his frame that allows him to rebound it well and he shot the ball decently well from deep this year. Guys who can strictly rebound and shoot threes aren’t worth much though, especially since he’s not an elite enough outside shooter to be confident in his shot translating.
The first thing that stands out when watching Hernangomez is his lack of court awareness. He only sees plays for himself on the offensive end, and is a step slow as a help defender on defense. Additionally, while his vertical athleticism is strong, he doesn’t move his feet well laterally and is going to struggle to guard both his position and in pick-and-roll. A 4 man who doesn’t playmake for others and hurts you on the defensive end isn’t all that exciting, even if he were an elite shooter. I would take Hernangomez in the back end of the second round due to his shooting/athleticism, but I don’t understand the first round hype he’s receiving.
DeAndre Bembry – Junior – 21.9 years old – St. Joseph’s
Bembry is a confusing prospect for me. I’ve become pretty high on him due to lack of better alternatives, but I never was all that big a fan of him when watching and draft models don’t really like him either. The most confusing thing about Bembry is his athleticism. He appears to have an old-man style un-athletic game at times, but he can really rise up above the rim and moves well when he’s guarding guys on the perimeter. I’ve concluded that he’s actually pretty darn athletic and something in his aesthetic makes him appear slower than he actually is.
Following the conclusion that he’s a good athlete, Bembry has a pretty good defensive profile. He’s not elite in any aspect (length, athleticism, instincts), but he’s solid across the board and seems to have decent natural awareness. He took plays off on the defensive end at times for St. Joe’s, but as a role player in the NBA he should be a solid to possibly above-average defender.
The pressing issue in Bembry’s profile is obviously his lack of a jump shot. He only shot the ball well from three his freshman year and has never shot well from the free throw stripe. Unlike Jaylen Brown, I’m also not a very big fan of his mechanics, and since he’s a relatively old junior I don’t have all that much hope in him really developing as a three-point shooter. He shoots with enough volume that I wouldn’t be surprised to command small amount of respect as a 30-33% shooter, but I don’t expect much more than that.
As a solid defender who isn’t a complete non-threat from deep but doesn’t really space the floor either Bembry needs to do a lot of other things on offense to be valuable. His combination of athleticism, passing vision, and some moves is borderline elite for a wing prospect, and while I don’t expect him to be a primary creator at the next level, he can provide a lot of extra value as a secondary playmaker on the wing.
I’m a big enough believer in his playmaking that I see him providing value as a team’s 6th or 7th man even without a consistent outside shot. He also has some extra upside to develop into a real valuable starter with dramatic improvement as an outside shooter. I give Jaylen Brown the slight edge because his jump shot is more promising and he has more paths to starter-dom, but the two are very close, and Bembry slots in ahead of Taurean Prince.
Rade Zagorac – Serbia – 20.8 years old – Mega Leks (International)
Mega Leks was absolutely stacked this season, and whenever I watched their games to scout Luwawu I couldn’t help but notice Zagorac. His tools on the offensive end at 6’9 are absolutely lottery pick level. He’s got solid burst around the rim, a good first step, a decent outside shot, some passing vision, very high-end handles, and elite coordination and body fluidity. His combination of tools allows him to really attack downhill in iso or pick-and-roll situations, and he can create shots for himself and others both from the perimeter and in the lane.
Still, Zagorac only profiles as a good secondary creator, and not a legitimate primary creator. His athleticism is good not great, his skinny frame struggles with contact, and while he has raw vision, his decision making leaves a lot to be desired at times. Those concerns prevent him from having star offensive player upside, but he has a real ceiling as a Nicolas Batum/Gordon Hayward level contributor with added strength and improvement in decision-making.
On the defensive end of the floor, Zagorac plays with good energy and uses his anticipation and length well to make plays off-the-ball. However, his frame prevents him from matching up with true power forwards, and he struggles a bit getting in a low enough stance to consistently guard on the perimeter and fight through screens. He’s not terrible as a lateral mover and can do some stuff off-the-ball, but he still profiles as a slightly below average NBA defender.
Compared to Bembry, Zagorac is at least a tier below on the defensive end of the floor, and while more appealing as an offensive prospect, not enough better to offset their defensive differences. He does rate higher than Prince because his creation ability is more impressive than Prince’s simply average 3-and-D profile.
Paul Zipser – Germany – 22.3 years old – Bayern Muenchen (International)
Brown, Bembry, and Zagorac all offer some real creation upside, but Zipser fits much more in Prince’s mold of a strictly off-ball player. Prince is generally seen as a noticeably better prospect than Zipser, but their two-way profiles are awfully similar.
Zipser is the better shooter of the two – he’s shot over 40% from the deeper Euro three for two straight years and even shot above 80% from the line. As a slasher, Zipser might be a touch more powerful and explosive, but Prince has an edge in terms of dribble moves, shooting off-the-bounce, and is a little better in terms of seeing the floor. Prince’s more well-rounded offensive game gives him the slightest of edges over Zipser, but the gap in their shooting abilities should not be ignored.
On the other end of the court, the two are again very close. Zipser’s sturdier frame and worse lateral quicks makes him more of a strictly small ball 4 with some switchability rather than a versatile 2/3/4 defender like Prince, but also gives him an edge in rebounding and banging inside. Additionally, the questions that surround Prince’s defensive translation due to Baylor’s zone are not there for Zipser who has lots of experience playing man on high-level pro-teams.
Zipser has the higher defensive floor because of the man/zone disparity, but Prince still stands out as a slightly better defensive prospect. Prince has a degree of quickness and tanginess that Zipser just can’t match, and while Zipser isn’t anything more than average on defense, Prince could be a plus. Overall, Zipser projects much like Prince as a rotation small ball 4 who isn’t good enough on either end to start, but holds value as a 7th or 8th man. Zipser’s a little less appealing on both ends, but isn’t all that far behind Prince as a prospect.
From here, the 3 / 4 crop has a lot of intriguing second round talent that I will briefly go over. I’m not going strictly by DraftExpress order since I will be ignoring guys who DraftExpress projects as undrafted and I agree with their projection.
Jake Layman – Senior – 22.2 years old – Maryland
Layman has gone through his career at Maryland as a projected late first-early second round pick, but never quite played to the level people hoped. His combination of shooting and above the rim athleticism is a great way to draw scouts attention, even if the rest of his game isn’t all that exciting.
If Layman were as good a lateral athlete as he is a vertical one he would be an exciting prospect, but since he struggles to get low and actually slide with wing players he doesn’t have all that much appeal as a 3-and-D guy. He doesn’t make up for his mediocre defense on the offensive end. He’s a good, not great, shooter who can attack in straight lines, but he doesn’t read the floor well or make very good decisions with the ball. He’s an even worse version of Juan Hernangomez, and he shouldn’t be drafted until the very back end of the second round.
Dorian Finney-Smith – Senior – 23.1 years old – Florida
Finney-Smith fits in the Zipser/Prince mold of solid two-way wings without that much upside on either side of the ball. Finney-Smith isn’t as good an athlete as either of them, and he’s much more of just a solid defender than an impact one. His shooting profile is also more reminiscent of Prince’s than Zipser’s – he can be reasonably projected as an NBA level three-point shooter but some doubt exists. The one area in which DFS is better than one of them is his ball handling; he’s not at Prince’s level as a creator but he’s a touch above Zipser’s strictly straight line play.
A less athletic, worse shooting, slightly better off-the-dribble version of Zipser is still a fairly interesting prospect. If put in the right team situation he could easily carve out a back end of the bench role as a versatile 3/4 man. I’d happily draft him in the mid-late second round.
Jarrod Uthoff – Senior – 23.0 years old – Iowa
Uthoff has a similar profile to Layman as a pretty good vertical athlete who lacks a degree of lateral mobility. In fact, Uthoff is even more extreme than Layman in both directions. He’s an even worse defender on the perimeter, but he offers some actual rim protection due to his leaping and solid instincts. Additionally, he’s a touch higher level of a shooter than Layman with more ability to knock down shots on the move.
His overall profile as a spot-up shooter who can’t guard on the perimeter doesn’t excite me, but his weird ability to block shots does give him some slight intrigue. He’s still best left as a late second-rounder, but he slots in a touch above Layman.
Derrick Jones – Freshman – 19.3 years old – UNLV
UNLV players are my unhealthy obsession, and Derrick Jones is no exception. It’s not a stretch to say that Derrick Jones might be the most athletic player in this entire draft. He has dunk contest winning leaping ability to go along with burst and quickness all over the floor. It’s weird how someone like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson could be seen as a consensus first round pick while Jones is projected as undrafted. Then again maybe it’s not weird because Hollis-Jefferson got the media attention of playing for a top-10 Arizona team while Jones was on UNLV’s dysfunctional trainwreck.
The comparison between RHJ and Jones isn’t an indictment of RHJ, but instead words of optimism about Jones. Compared to RHJ, Jones is less refined as a defender, not as good a ball handler, without the impressive passing vision, and similarly disastrous as a jump shooter. However, RHJ just submitted an awfully impressive rookie year and probably would be a late lottery pick in this year’s draft. Guys with Jones physical tools on the defensive end just don’t come around very often, and he could carve out a role as a defensive specialist a la Andre Roberson/Tony Allen even without an outside shot.
Jones needs to improve his understanding of defensive schemes, but he isn’t an athletic specimen like Marquese Chriss who looks lost out there on the court. He’s got real playmaking instincts on defense, and filled up the box score with steals and blocks due to his raw athleticism. If he miraculously turned around his jump shot he would undoubtedly be a very valuable 3-and-D player. As a potential role player with extra upside if he learns to shoot Jones is an exciting prospect worth a late first or early second round pick. He falls behind Zipser who has a much higher role player median outcome, but falls ahead of Finney-Smith’s back end of the bench profile.
James Webb III – Junior – 22.8 years old – Boise State
Webb fits the same profile as Layman and Uthoff as a shooter with above the rim athleticism but not much else to his game. Compared to the two of them Webb is significantly more athletic with more potential to guard on the perimeter but has a lot more questions as an outside shooter. Webb also has a ways to go in terms of understanding the game on the defensive end before he really projects as anything other than a below-average defender. He’s got more defensive upside but is enough worse as a shooter to slot just below Layman/Uthoff as a very late second round pick.
Troy Williams – Junior – 21.4 years old – Indiana
Williams is such a talented prospect that I’m surprised he hasn’t gotten more hype over the years. He’s an exceptional above the rim athlete with some real speed and moves with the ball in his hands. The main reasons he’s not more hyped are a pretty questionable outside shot, short arms, poor IQ on the defensive end, and absolutely atrocious decision making on the offensive end. He plays completely out of control and turns it over at a sky-high rate due to a ton of forced drives and passes.
I doubt he lasts in the NBA because of his questionable feel on both ends, but he’s still talented enough to deserve more hype than he’s getting. If he does manage to become a consistent outside shooter, and he shot 34.7% across 75 attempts this year, it’s not hard to see someone with his athleticism and ability to create off the bounce finding a role in the NBA. I rank him just behind Dorian Finney-Smith who has a better chance of securing a rotation spot, but ahead of Juan Hernangomez who is almost assured to be drafted ahead of him.
Elgin Cook – Senior – 23.4 years old – Baylor
The last player worth a brief mention is Cook, who I rank as a mid-late second round pick between Hernangomez and Uthoff. Cook is a solid all-around wing prospect – he’s got questions in all aspects of his game but isn’t disastrous in any one area either. His defensive awareness and outside shot are his biggest questions, but he certainly has the chance of improving enough to be a decent two-way wing.
My Rankings (suggested draft range in parentheses)
Tier 1 – All-Star – Superstar
#1 Ben Simmons (1)
Tier 2 – Borderline All-Star
#2 Brandon Ingram (2-3)
Tier 3 – Solid-Good Backups
#3 Jaylen Brown (8-15)
#4 DeAndre Bembry (10-18)
#5 Rade Zagorac (13-22)
#6 Taurean Prince (16-25)
#7 Paul Zipser (18-27)
Tier 4 – End of Rotation Wings
#8 Derrick Jones (30-45)
#9 Dorian Finney-Smith (40-55)
#10 Troy Williams (45-55)
#11 Juan Hernangomez (45-60)
#12 Elgin Cook (45-60)
#13 Jarrod Uthoff (55-Undrafted)
#14 Jake Layman (55-Undrafted)
#15 James Webb III (55-Undrafted)