Final Thoughts on the 2016 NBA Draft

The NBA draft is already tomorrow night, less than a week after the conclusion of the NBA Finals. I wanted to offer some brief final thoughts on important draft topics (I’ll number them), especially since the Timberwolves have the No. 5 overall pick.

Topic 1. Ben Simmons vs. Brandon Ingram

I can’t believe this is a real debate. I get all of the concerns surrounding Ben Simmons (effort level, commitment on defense, jumpshot, etc.), but in my opinion, none of that can outweigh what he did on the court this past year. His statistical production was off the charts and his combination of size, athleticism, ball handling, passing, rebounding, basketball IQ and elite finishing at the rim hasn’t been approached since LeBron came out over a decade ago. Simmons could legitimately play point guard in the league at 6’10”. He has such an amazing feel for the game at such a young age that I can easily envision a path for him to become a superstar. Few players have the potential to be above average in the post, as a pick-and-roll handler, and as a pick-and-roll roll man as a rookie. He has the talent to start right away next season and put up solid numbers, and I think the concerns about him are overblown. I actually love Brandon Ingram and I think he’ll be a great choice for the Lakers at No. 2, but I think Ben Simmons could be an all-star before the end of his rookie contract. Brandon Ingram is a top tier prospect, but Simmons might be a generational talent.

2. How teams (besides the 76ers and Lakers) should approach this draft

Teams outside the top-2 in this year’s draft (and especially outside the top-7) should be looking for players who could eventually be a component of their 8-man rotation. Swinging for the fences is fine, but any time you have the opportunity to add a quality player to your rotation you have to take it seriously. Stars are great, but expecting one outside the top-2 is wishful thinking. Hitting a single with the No. 8 pick is just fine. With that said, role translation for these players is key, and trying to find a player who can play a role that fits your team’s needs is probably the best approach for getting value out of the draft.

One mistake teams seem to constantly make is drafting for the next season. In reality, very few of these players are going to be ready to contribute to their teams next season, and drafting based off that paradigm almost never works out. The idea that some players are ‘NBA ready’ is not really based on anything reliable, and very few rookies are positives on either end (especially defensively). Drafting good players is the best pipeline that teams have for adding to — and building — a roster. Choosing the best player — even if it may take a while — is a smart approach. Some rookies will have better season’s than others, but none of them are really that good and it’s very unpredictable. Just take the best NBA player. If you’re desperate for an extra win or two, sign a cheap veteran.

3. My top-7 players

Most draft experts agree that there is a clear top-7 (or 8 if you include Buddy Hield) in this year’s draft; I slightly disagree.

My top-7 is as follows (in order):

1. Ben Simmons

2. Brandon Ingram

3. Jamal Murray

4. Marquese Chriss

5. Kris Dunn

6. Dragan Bender

7. Domantas Sabonis(!)

Many experts have Jaylen Brown in the top-5, and at least in the core top-7. I don’t, and I’ll explain more on that later. Really, I think there is a clear top-6, and after that it gets confusing. I think that Simmons and Ingram each have their own tier, and that the players ranked 3–6 are all pretty equal in terms of value. For me the distance between Ingram and Murray is several times greater than the difference between Murray and Bender (I also think Ingram is closer to Simmons than Murray, FWIW). In large part, the things that will ultimately separate that 3–6 tier are things that we can’t really account for such as work ethic, personality, the team they get drafted by, injuries and the development process. Sometimes the draft is more art than science.

4. Guys I like

There aren’t a lot of players in this draft that I have strong feelings on, but there are a few on both sides (good and bad) that I have opinions on. I’ll start with the guys I like.

A. Everyone in my top-6.

I think they’re all potential starters.

B. Domantas Sabonis

Sabonis isn’t a franchise changing player, but he’s very skilled and has a high basketball IQ. He’s only 20 and he put up huge numbers this year for Gonzaga. He also shoots very well from the free throw line and has good assist numbers, two things that make me optimistic about his future as an outside/inside big man.

Sabonis is one of the best rebounders in this draft and has a lot of moves around the rim already. I don’t think he has star potential, but I think he projects as a top-tier backup power forward that would fit well on literally any team. It wouldn’t surprise me if he eventually becomes a quality starter. For many teams, it’s a tough pill to swallow to draft a guy in the top-10 that may not even project as a starter, but I wouldn’t hesitate to take him. Sabonis is a guy I can clearly see as a rotation player on a championship contender.

So skilled

C. Denzel Valentine

Valentine is another guy I can see in a rotation on a championship caliber team. He’ll probably be a combo guard who can shoot and pass. He has a high basketball IQ and he will provide a lot of versatility for whichever team drafts him. The knee is obviously a concern, but it’s impossible for me to say how that will affect his career. Barring the injury concerns, I’d take him in the lottery.

D. Tyler Ulis

Ulis is another guy with a high basketball IQ (three is a trend). I probably wouldn’t draft Ulis until the early 20s, but I think he will eventually be a good backup point guard. His size and athleticism are clearly a big problem that will probably prevent him from starting, but I think his passing, basketball IQ, and overall awareness will eventually help him carve out a role in the league. He’s a very low risk investment with rotation upside at the end of the first round.

5. Guys I don’t like

A. Malachi Richardson

Richardson is a talented player with great size and NBA athleticism. My problem with him is not with his talent and skills, but how he’ll use those things to make an impact in the NBA. He shot below 40% from inside the three point line this year and is prone to taking really bad shots. He doesn’t look to pass enough and we have no idea what he’s going to be like on defense after playing in the zone at Syracuse.

Even if Richardson is good enough to make an NBA rotation, he’ll always be a frustrating piece because of his tendency to isolate and take bad shots outside the flow of the offense. Unless he becomes a superstar, which I doubt, he’s probably Nick Young in the NBA. I’d avoid him in the first round unless I was desperate for some scoring.

B. Skal Labissiere

Skal was a top recruit coming out of high school, but he was terrible this year at Kentucky. Obviously he’s a young player, but he’s a year older than most freshmen (he’s already 20) and it seems like he has no clue what’s happening on the court. He’s a very bad rebounder and if he was overwhelmed at the college level, I doubt it changes in the NBA. It wouldn’t shock me if Labissiere becomes a solid NBA player, but he was just so far away this year I wouldn’t spend a pick on him until the early to late 20s.

C. Buddy Hield

I suppose I like Buddy Hield and I think he’s worthy of a lottery pick, but I can’t believe pundits are talking about him in the same range as Jamal Murray. Hield was by far the best shooter in college basketball this year, but that doesn’t guarantee you NBA success (Jimmer, Nik Stauskas). Hield didn’t show lottery potential until his senior year when he became a college superstar. His body is extremely developed (he turns 23 in December) and he is three years older than those in the freshman class. He’s also fairly old for his age.

I don’t think Buddy is going to ever be an NBA superstar the way he was at Oklahoma, so his game is going to have to completely change. He was best with the ball in his hands this year, but he probably won’t get the opportunity to do that as much in the NBA. When he doesn’t have the physical advantage anymore it’ll be interesting to see if he can reshape his game. All of this makes him a very difficult player to project. I would take him in the lottery, but definitely not before my first six players are off the board.

D. Jaylen Brown

Jaylen Brown is a prototypical ‘good prospect’ because of his size, strength and athleticism, but I don’t think he should be a top-5 pick. Like Buddy, I see him in the lottery, probably somewhere between 9–14. There are so many obvious flaws with Jaylen Brown as a player. In fact, there are so many that I’m just going to make a list of them.

-Outside the top-100 in Kevin Pelton’s statistical big board

-Ball stopper on offense

-Monster usage rates with poor shooting and passing numbers

-Shot very poorly from the perimeter

- 43–29–65 shooting splits

-Below average feel for the game

-Terrible production in typically athlete dominated categories (rebounds, blocks, steals)

-Poor finisher at the rim last year (45%)

-Turnover machine

-His team was worse offensively when he was on the floor

Essentially, Brown played very poorly on offense and from a production standpoint during the college season. While there are plenty of mitigating factors to go into (Cramped spacing, slow pace, better high school shooting), there is no way a player of Brown’s talent level should have played so poorly in college.

Brown was a pretty solid defender overall and shows flashes of lockdown potential, but the offensive stuff is really a problem. He thinks he’s better than he is, and you can’t have a low efficiency player taking so many shots. My biggest problem with Brown is not his lack of talent or skills, it’s how he plays. If what he did at Cal is any indication of what’s to come, he could be the most talented player on his team and still have a negative impact because of the way he plays.

I think Brown has a ton of potential as a two way player who guards multiple positions, dominates in transition, and eventually becomes a legitimate scoring threat, but if he doesn’t change his game he will cripple his team’s offense. He’s still worth the risk in the lottery, but his style makes me very, very nervous. Offensively, he reminds me of Shabazz Muhammad (except more talented).

All of the players that will be drafted tomorrow night are talented, but when it comes to determining which players I like and don’t like, it tends to be much more about style than substance.

6. Who should the Wolves take?

The Wolves have the fifth pick, so their board only has to go five deep, here’s mine:

1. Ben Simmons

2. Brandon Ingram

3a. Jamal Murray

3b. Marquese Chriss

5. Dragan Bender

The Wolves need an SG or a PF, and this draft has many options for them. I love Jamal Murray’s ability to score from the perimeter and play next to both Ricky Rubio and Zach LaVine. They need scoring off the ball when Rubio is on the court and Murray fits that role. He is an elite shooter and can score in a lot of different ways. His offensive instincts are off the charts; my favorite thing about him is his feel for the game. He’s not a super athlete and he’ll struggle on defense, but he’s a great fit for the Wolves both in terms of skill and timeline.

Enjoy these clips of him draining threes.

In my opinion, Marquese Chriss has the highest bust potential out of these three, but he also represents the most upside as a fit with this Wolves roster. Chriss’s strengths complement the other players on the team already and they can cover up his weaknesses as well.

He’s an incredible athlete for a power forward who should be able to run furiously in transition and make big plays on both ends of the floor. He can also shoot, dribble drive, dive to the rim and even post up a little bit.

Chriss would be an unbelievable fit with Karl Towns because they both play an inside-outside game. They can space the floor for each other as they take turns rolling to the rim and exploiting mismatches on the block. Towns can also compensate for Chriss’s biggest weakness-defensive rebounding.

Chriss has to play alongside an above average defensive rebounder to maximize his potential and Towns fits the bill. Towns and Chriss would also represent one of — if not the most — athletic frontcourt duos in the league, and both players are capable of switching onto most guards and forwards. A lineup of Rubio-LaVine-Wiggins-Chriss-Towns is more than capable of switching pick-and-rolls and would allow Tom Thibodeau the versatility to literally do anything on defense.

Yeah, he’s athletic.

Chriss is raw and has troubling weaknesses (defensive rebounding, basketball IQ, passing, raw shot), but he’s not even 19 yet and if he ends up being a real NBA player, his athleticism and versatility would greatly increase the team’s ceiling on both sides of the ball.

If both Chriss and Murray are gone, I would be more than happy to see the Wolves get Dragan Bender. From what I’ve seen, his statistical projections from Europe look solid, and he’s further along than Chriss in terms of his skills and basketball IQ. He turns 19 in November, making him the youngest player in the draft.

At seven feet tall, Bender has great size for a power forward, although he’s still very thin. He’s an elite passer for his position and it seems like he has a developing shooting touch. It’s always hard to tell with European players, but that also means that Bender could be much better than we think. He’s a risk, but if Murray and Chriss are gone, it’s one I would love the Wolves to take.

The reason why I’ve omitted Kris Dunn from this section is that I think Dunn is a true point guard, which means the Wolves would have to choose between him and Rubio. I like Rubio, and I think he can help the Wolves take another step next year. Considering the number of good point guards in the league, the trade market for Rubio is probably extremely soft, so it basically comes down to choosing between Dunn alone or Rubio+Murray/Bender/Chriss. I think the talent is pretty equal between the four, so considering the fit of the other three guys (with the team and with Rubio); Dunn is 6th on my board.

Regardless of who they take, I want to see the Wolves take the approach to this draft that I described earlier in this post. This might be their last chance to acquire a major piece through the draft, so they should take advantage of that opportunity and draft someone who can be an important part of the core in Minnesota for the long-term. Veterans win games now, but considering the youth of the roster, they don’t need a high impact player next year, they need a high impact player for 2020 and beyond when they might realistically compete for a championship. Coaches and players want to win next year, but this asset is too important to the franchise’s championship potential to compromise it for the opportunity to add three wins next year. It might be true that none of these guys are ready to be major contributors next year. My hope is that the Wolves understand that’s ok.

At the end of the day, the teams and agents know way more about these prospects than we ever will, and it’s impossible for us to accurately judge these guys before they ever play an NBA game. However, the information we have is just enough to make it fun to predict these things. I hope the Wolves draft the guy(s) I want, but more than that, I just want whomever they draft (or trade for) to end up being good. In less than 24 hours, we’ll know who that player is.

Shout out to Tobias Go-to-Guys YouTube channel. They have some great NBA draft video playlists. Follow me on medium and on Twitter.