I see a fundamental problem at the top of these evaluations. Small scoring guards — whatever you want to call them, as you could also call them shoot-first point guards or just (a la Brad Stevens) ball-handlers — are being even more over-valued than they were in the draft.
Fultz, Smith, Fox, Mitchell — four of the supposed top seven — all fall into this category. And because anyone who is not a one-and-done now is suspect, they have a huge advantage because their skills have been developed in ways that those of players at other positions simply haven’t. Those skills also tend to look impressive in summer league, both because of the level of competition and the style of play.
The reason their skills are more advanced is simple. The AAU currently rewards guys who can bring the ball up and score without ever passing it off to someone else. It’s all about being the alpha-dog in AAU, and if you have the ball in your hands and can score, you will not just get noticed but get people excited. Players at other positions will need more time to develop — maybe not a lot more, but some.
I’m intentionally not including Ball because he is not like the others. He’s a throwback to the pass-first, creative point guard with incredible court-vision and anticipation. He’s Magic, right down to the iffy shooting when he arrived in the league. (Magic didn’t become a decent shooter for several years, and he didn’t have Ball’s odd motion bringing the ball up.) He’s also taller than any of the others, though three or four inches short of Magic’s height.
It’s also ridiculous to under-value Tatum at this point. He “struggled to create space against Kyle Kuzma” in a game in which he was 9 of 19 from the field, 8 of 8 from the line, and hit his only three-point shot? (He also had 11 rebounds that game.) So how many plays does that supposed struggle actually represent? Kuzma (6' 9" and 220) is bigger than Tatum, and I assume they never faced each other in college. Is this what Tjarks is hanging his “eye of the beholder prospect” comment on? Many things are in the eye of the beholder, but when a bunch of NBA people are praising Tatum and your opinion is something of an outlier, I might look into it.
He’s 19. He’s shown the ability to score from all three levels. He can vary the arc of his shot in order to get it over defenders. He’s an outstanding free throw shooter, which is always the most reliable predictor of future outside shooting range. He’s surprised me with his rebounding. He’s bad defensively, but coaching can change that. He’ll never be Michael Cooper or Kawhi, but he won’t be asked to be, and I’m confident he won’t be Melo either.
But the real question is this: does anyone think that basketball has changed so fundamentally at this point that in three to five years four of the best seven players from this draft will have been 6' 4" and under shoot-first small guards — because that’s what you’re asking us to believe — or is it more likely that because of the AAU culture and the one-and-done college reality, those players simply reach more of their potential at a younger age?
I’d bet heavily on the latter possibility.