Previewing the 2016 NBA Draft 4/5 Bigs

There is almost no such thing as a “true” power forward these days. Any player who fits the classical description of a power forward is going to be tested as a 5 in the modern NBA, even if they predominantly play the 4. Some guys in this position grouping might mostly play center in the NBA, but there are enough “true” centers that I figured I would save a separate post for them. I’m going to analyze the players in order of their DraftExpress rankings before re-ordering them into my own rankings.

I already previewed Dragan Bender in detail here, but needless to say, he is my favorite of the prospects in this group.

Skal Labissiere – Freshman – 20.2 years old – Kentucky

How Skal Labissiere has hung on to his top-10 pick status has got to be one of the world’s greatest mysteries. The biggest reason I don’t understand the Skal hype is that his upside just doesn’t seem all that high. Last year I made a huge mistake by saying that Kristaps Porzingis’s upside was only an “inverse Ibaka,” but I’m going to go down that road again by saying Skal’s upside is not much more than a slightly better version of Ibaka. Even optimistic projections of Skal wouldn’t expect him to do much more than block shots, hit threes, and dunk the ball – much like Serge Ibaka. Peak Ibaka was a very good player, but not the type of upside you drool over.

More importantly, Skal is worlds away from hitting that Ibaka upside. Skal’s shooting stroke is absolutely beautiful, but operating under the assumption that a guy who didn’t make a single college three all season and only shot 66% from the free throw line will develop an NBA three is a little absurd. Skal has some fluidity in executing offensive moves, but his actual ability to read and react to the defense is terrible. Part of the reason he couldn’t stay on the floor at Kentucky was he struggled to deal with any sort of body contact or help defense and turned the ball over without ever finding his teammates.

Skal’s awareness is just as bad on the defensive end. He racks up blocks because he goes for them at all costs, but he can’t rebound, doesn’t know where to be on defense, and fouls like a maniac due to his lack of strength. He can’t guard on the perimeter either despite decent lateral quicks because he falls for every fake and jumps out of his stance.

Skal was a legitimately bad player at Kentucky this past season on both ends of the floor. He looked lost on the court, and every numeric indicator of awareness (REB%, STL%, A/TO) paints the same picture. The optimist argument is that he hasn’t played much organized basketball in his life so he will learn quickly and everything will be a lot easier once he adds strength. The pessimist argument says Skal is already super old for a freshman and has such a long way to go in terms of skill, body, and mentality that he’s never going to be an NBA player.

I tend to side with the latter line of thinking. Certain guys look confused on the court, but they can improve their understanding of the game over time. Skal looks like he truly cannot process the speed of the game, and I have little faith in him ever processing things at an NBA level. He’s a mid-second round flier based on his physical tools and potential outside stroke, and whichever team takes him in the lottery is going to make a pretty ill-advised gamble.

Deyonta Davis – Freshman – 19.5 years old – Michigan State

I wrote about Davis earlier in the year for Upside & Motor, and my thoughts haven’t changed much since. He measured well at the combine, and he seems ready made to play the role of small-ball 5 in the modern NBA. His defensive awareness is at a good stage for someone as young as he is, and his body seems to be on the course of filling out very nicely. His athletic tools allow him to both protect the rim and guard well on the perimeter – he’s even more mobile than his most frequent comparison in Tristan Thompson.

Davis isn’t an elite defensive prospect. His slightly undersized frame means he would need to have Nerlens Noel-esque defensive instincts to be elite on that end, but he’s right in the next tier as a very good defensive prospect who can comfortably play the 4 or the 5. He might struggle a bit guarding the true behemoths of the league, but he’s mobile and big enough to stay on the floor in almost any potential matchup.

His offensive game is currently most suited for the small-ball 5 role. He’s got soft hands and touch around the rim which allows him to finish in non-dunk situations, and he’s a great target for lobs above the rim. He also uses his quickness and leaping well on the offensive glass. There is reason for optimism in Davis developing into more than just a Tristan Thompson on the offensive end. His shot mechanics looks promising, and the fluidity and touch with which he operates around the rim mean it’s not out of the question he develops a 4-man’s offensive game.

A team shouldn’t draft Davis in the hopes of him becoming a power forward, but instead as a good two-way small 5 with some chance of expanding his game. Again, compared to Tristan Thompson, Davis hasn’t shown the same type of relentless energy, but is the more talented prospect on both ends of the floor. He doesn’t have the world’s highest upside, but he’s one of the few players in this year’s class with a good shot at being a starter and he’s deserving of a top-10 selection.

Marquese Chriss – Freshman – 18.9 years old – Washington

From a simplistic perspective, hating Skal Labissiere as a prospect should go hand in hand with hating Chriss. Both are mostly prospects because of their athleticism and shooting but have statistical profiles that suggest they just aren’t all that good due to lack of feel for the game. I’m not as high on Chriss as some – he shouldn’t be a top-5 pick – but unlike Skal he retains some lottery appeal.

The first thing that’s different is where they are right now as prospects. Skal is the better shot blocker due to his superior length, but Chriss is better at almost everything else on the floor. His three-point shot is far from a sure thing, yet is still miles ahead of Skal in terms of being proven as an in-game weapon. The rest of Chriss’s offensive game is also a whole lot more developed. He has an explosive first step and solid handle that he uses to attack the rim, and he possesses the coordination to take pull-up jumpers or execute some moves at the rim. He plays a bit out of control and doesn’t have the greatest touch – but he’s significantly more advanced than what we’ve seen from Skal.

Chriss’s offensive game is plagued with similar questions as Skal. He doesn’t adjust to what the defense is doing and has little feel for what is a good shot and a bad one. He’s never going to be an elite scorer or even a playmaking 4 like Draymond Green, but he can provide some interesting value. He looks like he should be able to space the floor, and his ability to get to the rim when attacking closeouts is pretty impressive. Additionally, he is such a ridiculous above the rim athlete that he can actually be used as a lob threat rolling down the lane in pick-and-roll. Chriss’s athleticism is on another level from Skal’s, making him a better pick-and-roll threat in addition to the superior perimeter option.

Without much feel for the game or advanced handle, Chriss isn’t going to be a great offensive player, but he can contribute well in enough ways to still be an average-plus offensive player for his position.

I actually have more questions about Chriss’s defense than I do his offense, where theoretically his natural physical tools should carry him farther. Chriss undeniably has the physical tools to be a great defender. He can provide some rim protection from the power forward position, he’s got a solidly built frame, and he can really move his feet on the perimeter. However, he’s not a very instinctual defender and has a long way to go before he can execute team defensive schemes at a high level.

His disastrous rebounding numbers are being a bit overplayed. Washington frequently had him switch on the perimeter which took him away from rebounding position. Still, the degree of just how bad his rebounding was is indicative of his lack of awareness level and effort defense. The good news for Chriss is that he, unlike Skal, is super young for a freshman. He has a hell of a long way to go to, but there are more reasons to expect Chriss to improve than there are for Skal.

Balancing everything out, Chriss’s most likely outcome is a slightly above-average offensive 4 who is a slight negative on the defensive end. That would still put him as a useful bench piece, and he has enough upside of becoming a plus player on both ends that he deserves a back end of the lottery selection. Deyonta still ranks as the better prospect with similar starter upside and a reasonably higher floor. Chriss’s raw shooting and athleticism gives him a slightly higher floor then people are giving him credit for, and in a lottery devoid of potential starters it is worth taking a gamble on him.

Henry Ellenson – Freshman – 19.4 years old – Marquette

This conversation I had with the great Chris Stone discussed the pros and cons of Ellenson’s NBA outlook. He’s a player with some real natural gifts that should allow him to stick in the league for a while, but he has a long way to go to actually be a useful NBA player.

His combination of ball handling and coordination is rare in a man his size, and he has shown signs of being both a plus passer and shooter for his position as well. If he puts it all together he could be a little Paul Millsap-esque on the offensive end – which is really good, but he needs to prove his outside shot can actually work and do a better job adjusting to defensive help to utilize his raw vision.

The bigger questions in Ellenson’s profile obviously lie on the defensive end. He was a pretty bad defender at the college level, and his lack of lateral mobility combined with poor leaping make him a threat to be disastrous at either the 4 or the 5. There are some reasons for optimism. He’s long enough to realistically play the 5, has some natural timing as a shot blocker, and has a doughy frame that suggests he could become significantly more mobile if he focuses on his body. He’ll probably never be mobile enough to match up with quicker 4’s, but he might hurt a defense more playing the 5 which demands more rim protection.

Ellenson has far enough to go athletically and from a mental standpoint that he probably tops out as a below-average defender, but whether he is simply below-average or Enes Kanter-level terrible makes a big difference. There are worlds in which things go well for Ellenson’s development on both ends of the floor, and he becomes an elite enough offensive player to be a great sixth man or decent starter even despite his defense. That upside still isn’t all that enticing, and there a lot of scenarios in which Ellenson fails to develop his three-point shot or really sucks on defense and settles in as a long term 8th/9th man. His upside is a little higher than the others in his range, but his plethora of unappealing outcomes means teams shouldn’t draft him until the post-lottery mid-first round stage.

Domantas Sabonis – Sophomore – 20.1 years old – Gonzaga

Sabonis joins Ellenson as one of the trickier players for me to come to a conclusion on this draft. At 6’10 with short arms, little above-the-rim bounce, confusing mobility (sometimes he looks really fast but he also is a bit of an awkward mover), and awful defensive stats Sabonis seems likely to be a pretty negative defender. He’s particularly problematic because his lack of length/leaping prevents him from protecting the rim enough to play the 5, but his inability to stretch the floor indicates he should be playing the 5 role on offense.

Whether or not Sabonis can develop a three-point shot could be pretty huge for his NBA success. Sabonis only took 14 threes this college season, but has a solid stroke and shot an encouraging 76.9% from the free-throw line. If he could stretch the floor to the NBA line he could play the 4, minimizing the negative effects of his rim protection.

Playing the 4 would demand a lot more from Sabonis’s perimeter guarding, and even though he looks pretty fast at times I would bet on him struggling in that role. The good news for Sabonis is that he is one of the few traditional 4’s who could really punish a small ball 4. He is an excellent and tenacious rebounder, and has a pretty effective post game due to his strength, short area quickness, and soft natural touch.

Sabonis’s fantastic inside scoring game is what makes him so tricky to evaluate. Non-floor spacing power forwards who can’t defend are almost always a losing proposition, but Sabonis just has an incredible feel for the game on the offensive end of the floor. He’s not a great athlete by traditional standards, but he really abuses guys physically – his natural physical instincts are elite.

The current (and hopefully final) iteration of my big board has Sabonis at 22. His defensive profile combined with his unlikeliness to space the floor (vertically or horizontally) overwhelmingly suggests he can’t be anything more than an offensive minded backup. His seeming lack of starter upside, combined with the chance his inside game doesn’t totally translate against high-level athletes, means I have him at 22, behind Henry Ellenson. Nonetheless, the dude just really knows how to play basketball and I’m worried he might turn into something like an uber-Kanter and be deserving of a higher rank.

Cheick Diallo – Freshman – 19.4 years old – Kansas

There isn’t too much to say about Diallo and there wasn’t too much to watch on Diallo. His combination of lateral mobility, 7’4 length, solid leaping, and exceptional effort level make it easy to envision him as a destructive small-ball 5 defensively. He’s probably never going to be thick enough to matchup with traditional centers, and he doesn’t have the offensive game to play the 4, but he has a lot of potential as a small-ball 5. The defensive side of things is easy to envision, and he even has some natural fluidity in his footwork that could allow him to be an asset in pick-and-roll on offense.

Basically Deyonta Davis without quite as much upside as a shooter or post defender. The reason Diallo isn’t a late-lottery pick is he has a long way to go to fill that role successfully. His energy on defense is great, but he’s a little bit like a chicken with his head cut off in the way he runs around and fouls. He needs a lot of refinement in his scheme execution before he can realistically be projected to even earn NBA minutes.

Things are somehow even worse offensively. Diallo is a turnover machine with zero feel when he catches the ball, and he has a tendency to force up fade-away mid-rangers if he is not losing the ball. Whether he is trying to show scouts his stroke or just actually can’t see the floor, he needs big time improvement in both feel and decision making to not be a hugely negative offensive player.

The smart bet is on Diallo getting part of the way there, and ending up as a decent small ball 5 in spot minutes. He does have decent upside for someone in his draft range, but since he would always be more of a situational player he’s not worth a gamble until the late first or early second round.

Petr Cornelie – France – 20.8 years old – Le Mans (International)

Cornelie’s immediate tools profile suggests he could be a really useful NBA player. He’s extremely mobile for his height, bouncy at the rim, and shot 40% on 105 three-point attempts this past year. Theoretically, he’s mobile enough to play the 4 but long and bouncy enough to succeed as a small-ball 5 as well, and his ability to space the floor on offense will make him useful.

In practice, Cornelie just isn’t all that good a player. On offense, he’s strictly a catch and shoot or catch and dunk guy, and has zero feel for putting the ball on the floor or finding teammates. He also lacks coordination and struggles to finish any non-dunk attempts around the rim. Shooting alone can make someone a decent offensive player, but Cornelie is about as bad as it gets for a big his size. His propensity to turn the ball over and inability to read the floor will really hurt at the NBA level.

Cornelie suffers with similar mental problems on the defensive end. He has zero natural feel or awareness, so he’s not good as a help defender and he lets ball handlers attack him because he takes bad angles at the ball. Opposing players can also bully him; he’s got a rail-thin frame and lacks a degree of toughness to compensate. He’s got the athletic tools to not be a sieve in one-on-one matchups, but it is fair to expect him to be a pretty negative defensive player.

It’s not surprising that someone with Cornelie’s physical gifts and skill set has earned draft hype, but nothing he does on the court suggests he’s ready to contribute in the NBA. At the back end of the second round his tools might be worth gambling on, but there are other players I myself would prefer to take a shot on.

Brice Johnson – Senior – 21.9 years old – North Carolina

A scouting quirk I find interesting is how similar Johnson and Cornelie look when sliding on the defensive end. Both are really fast moving horizontally and get in wide stances that look really impressive, but neither actually guard the perimeter all that well because they slide so aggressively they get out of position easily. This is important because many project Brice as a good defender due to his mobility, but he’s skinny without great rim protecting instincts and can’t switch screens as well as some hope. His IQ on the defensive end isn’t as disastrous as Cornelie, but he still projects as a negative defender at the 5 or simply average one at the 4.

The good news for Brice is that the rest of his game has a lot more to be excited about. As a shooter, he’s become pretty good from around 15 feet and at the free-throw line but hasn’t yet shown signs of extending his range to the three-point line. He elevates really abnormally high on his mid-range jump shot so it would seem he needs to re-work his form to adjust to the NBA three, but there is at least some hope of him extending his range.

The reason Brice is a better offensive player has nothing to do with his shooting ability, though. Brice is a truly insane leaper, he might not get quite as high as Marquese Chriss, but his ability to elevate quickly off the floor from almost any prior position is unlike anyone in this draft. The guy is just a pogo stick, and it allows him to be a menace on the offensive glass and in situations when he catches the ball around the rim. He shot 61.4% from the field this year despite not having great touch and taking a fair amount of mid-rangers because he just has fantastic feel for catching the ball around the rim and elevating over and around defenders.

Brice’s leaping is so unique that he doesn’t just convert shots around the rim, he creates them. In pick-and-roll, he is a constant lob threat, and there are times he catches the ball around the paint and just goes up off one step when most players would simply rotate the ball. Brice can be hugely valuable in a spaced out offense running pick-and-roll, but a team will have to sacrifice on the defensive end to get him on the floor. Brice really needs the right situation to be maximized on offense, and even then he would probably only play a 20-25 minute per game role as a small ball 5. His need for the right situation and relative lack of upside makes him an early second rounder to me, but he certainly could provide a fair amount of value if he finds the right team.

Guerschon Yabusele – France – 20.5 years old – Rouen (International)

Marc Whittington pointed this out on twitter the other day, but Yabusele can pretty easily be compared to Henry Ellenson. His overall package as an offensively versatile 4 who takes things away on the defensive end is very similar. Despite their similarities, I have Ellenson as a late teens pick and don’t think Yabusele deserves drafting until the very end of the second round.

Yabusele is a relatively proven outside shooter, pretty fluid with the ball, and a surprisingly bouncy athlete, but is worse than Ellenson in enough areas to cause a ranking disparity. The most obvious difference is in their size – Yabusele is listed at 6’8 (presumably in shoes) while Ellenson is over 6’11. Yabusele doesn’t offer anything as a rim protector, so he is much more limited to purely playing the 4.

As a 4 man, Yabusele can space the floor and attack in straight lines, but he doesn’t offer the same creativity in his playmaking that Ellenson does. Ellenson has more promise as a passer and creator for others, and also has a more refined and advanced offensive game when he attacks.

The issue with Yabusele is that you can’t play him at the 5 and he also offers almost zero advantage over playing a traditional 3 at the 4. He’s stronger than 3’s and can do some damage on the glass, but he’s got less playmaking ability and is significantly slower guarding on the perimeter. Without great lateral mobility or defensive instincts, Yabusele is likely to be a pretty negative defender, even at the power forward position. As a result, he doesn’t seem like more than an end of bench scoring big at best, and he’s best suited as a late second rounder.

Thon Maker – USA – 19.3 years old – HS Senior

Like with Chieck Diallo, I haven’t seen enough of Maker to say too much about him. His frame, athleticism, and semblance of a jump shot indicates he could be a useful role player. On the other hand, his lack of high school production and questionable hands, basketball IQ, and bodily coordination are all pretty huge red flags. He hasn’t proven that he is likely to be bad like Skal Labissiere or Yabusele, but he also hasn’t shown quite as much promise as guys like Brice Johnson and Diallo. He rates as a mid-second round pick for me, but I’m purely basing my evaluation on other scouting sources, last year’s Nike Hoop Summit, and the couple AAU games I’ve watched him play. The physical tools are there, but everything else in his profile suggests he’s nothing more than an end of the bench energy big.

Robert Carter – Junior – 22.2 years old – Maryland

A look at Carter’s bodily appearance and tools on the court would suggest he’s basically the same player as Guerschon Yabusele. Like with the Yabusele and Ellenson comparison, subtle differences add up to two wildly different players.

For starters, Carter has a 7’3 wingspan that allows him to play a lot bigger than his 6’8 in shoes height. Carter would be a minus rim protector for a 5 man, but he can offer enough in that role to realistically get by at the 5. More importantly, Carter is a much better lateral mover, and while he still needs to improve his conditioning and awareness, projects as a much closer to average defender. As a 5 or against a small 4 he’s going to be taking something away on the defensive end, but has a chance of being solid enough to not collapse a team’s entire defense.

Offensively, Carter’s three-point shot still needs some improvement, and making it into a semi-respected weapon is absolutely crucial for his hopes of NBA success. The rest of Carter’s offensive game is what is really impressive. He struggles with turnover issues and forced drives, but he’s got a ton of fluidity as a ball handler for a man his size and can really pass the ball. His ability to playmake really separates him from Yabusele, and makes him a potentially plus offensive player at either the 4 or the 5.

Questions about his body, his shot, and his defensive awareness mean Carter has a high chance of flailing out of the league or only staying on as a very end of the bench guy. He also has the type of two-way skill set where he could be a really valuable bench piece, making him a worthwhile late-round pick above the exclusively small ball 5’s Diallo and Johnson.

Ben Bentil – Sophomore – 21.2 years old – Providence

I’ve mentioned Yabusele an inordinate amount at this point, but Bentil is another player with traditional 4 size and an offensive minded game. Just how bad Bentil’s defense is cannot be overstated. He plays with zero awareness or effort and doesn’t have the natural physical gifts to add much as a rim protector or perimeter defender. He’s mobile enough that he could be not disastrous as a 4 defender, but he’s got a long way to go in the mental side of the game.

On the offensive end, he’s got a lot of talent and coordination as a scorer and shooter, but he is looking for his shot at any and all times. His ability to get buckets in volume shouldn’t be overlooked, and it’s possible he could play a Mareese Speights like role in the NBA. Still, Bentil’s offensive profile isn’t encouraging enough to offset his truly awful defensive projection – I would only draft him at the very end of the second and probably not at all.

Pascal Siakam – Sophomore – 22.3 years old – New Mexico State

Siakam has some small potential to stretch his shot to the NBA three-point line but is most likely just a solid mid-range shooter who doesn’t provide plus spacing. Adding his lack of off-the-dribble game means Siakam will exclusively have to play the small ball 5 role to succeed in the NBA.

Thankfully, at 6’9 with a 7’2 wingspan and good athletic pop Siakam has enough as a rim protector to do a decent job. Siakam’s profile lacks any glaring red flags. He’s a solid all-around athlete, has decent defensive instincts, a semblance of a jump shot, surprisingly solid feel and vision on offense, and the ability to finish reasonably around the rim. Nothing in his profile stands out in a positive light either though, and his overall mediocrity could easily become below-average across the board at the NBA level.

Without any strong reasons to dislike him he seems like he could carve out a back end of the bench role, and he’s worth a shot in the middle of the second round when every other player is filled with flags.

Joel Bolomboy – Senior – 22.3 years old – Weber State

Bolomboy’s base profile as a super athletic 6’9 guy who can shoot the three-ball is pretty exciting. He’s athletic enough to actually project as a small-ball 5 who can both protect the rim and guard well on the perimeter, and on offense he’s both a catch and shoot and catch and dunk threat.

Unfortunately, Bolomboy’s underlying statistics match the eye test of a player with zero feel for the game of basketball. On defense, he doesn’t make an impact as a rim protector because he lacks timing and positioning, and he takes bad angles on the ball that prevent him from actually guarding well. He’s also a turnover prone bad decision maker on the offensive end, and he is a bit stiff in all of his motions. His raw tools deserve a late second round pick, but the rest of his game earns nothing more.

My Rankings (suggested draft range in parentheses)

Tier 1 – Borderline All-Star’s

#1 Dragan Bender (2-3)

Tier 2 – Good Backups-Solid Starters

#2 Deyonta Davis (4-10)

#3 Marquese Chriss (8-15)

Tier 3 – Backups with Upside

#4 Henry Ellenson (15-23)

#5 Domantas Sabonis (18-27)

#6 Robert Carter (24-33)

Tier 4 – Potential Good Backup Role Players

#7 Chieck Diallo (30-40)

#8 Brice Johnson (30-40)

#9 Thon Maker (35-50)

#10 Skal Labissiere (35-50)

Tier 5 – Potential End of Bench Guys

#11 Pascal Siakam (45-60)

#12 Guerschon Yabusele (50-60)

#13 Joel Bolomboy (50-60)

#14 Petr Cornelie (50-Undrafted)

#15 Ben Bentil (55-Undrafted)


One thought on “Previewing the 2016 NBA Draft 4/5 Bigs

  1. Pingback: Starting 5 - A Hectic Offseason - TFB

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