Written by: Ben Steinmetz, Jordan Dant, Matt Sawyer
The NBA draft is full of tough selections and players with only flashes and glimpses of how their skills might develop at the next level. It can be hard enough to project a single player, let alone compare them to each other. In this rotating Q-and-A session we took a stab at the easier of the two, and tried to simply answer some of the bigger questions around individual players towards the top of the draft.
Question: Is Markelle Fultz truly a franchise changing player?
Matt: Markelle Fultz can absolutely be a franchise changing player. If you examine his lone season at Washington, you can easily see why he is the prize of this draft. He doesn’t have a glaring weakness and is the best prospect at creating his own shot and making tough shots. Every elite team needs a player who can make tough 2s or 3s without an assist from a teammate (see: James, Durant, Leonard, etc.). Aside from his scoring prowess, he is probably the best passer in this draft. As a big guard who is a threat to score on the ball, his passing is a huge asset for a franchise who needs a scorer to facilitate a dynamic offense. He will probably be able to guard multiple positions defensively — his size will create problems for smaller guards and will allow him to be physical with bigger wings. Fultz had an incredible season with little talent around him at UW. It’s hard to imagine he won’t improve with other capable players on the court with him in Philadelphia.
Ben: I think that this answer depends on how you define “franchise changing player.” If you’re defining that as a generational-type of talent who you can lean on as your best player on an NBA championship caliber team, then I would say that the answer is no. If you’re defining “franchise changing player” as a player who makes multiple all-star teams, can create offense for himself and others for large sections of a game, has few flaws, can be the second best player on a championship caliber team, and has a decent shot at the hall of fame then I say yes. Fultz is not a Lebron, Durant, or Anthony Davis caliber of player, I think that much is clear. I have a hard time believing that any of those players, regardless of supporting cast, would have found themselves part of a 9 and 22 college season and on the losing end of a large number of blowout losses. Now, I like Fultz a lot as a player, and it’s hard not to like him. He has terrific size and length for the guard position, good handles and passing, solid shooting numbers with some room for improvement, and he’s a good athlete. It’s concerning that he seemed to lose focus on the defensive end of the floor at times, although some of that is understandable considering that he just turned 19. He possesses great potential though and is clearly the top talent in this draft. If Joel Embiid turns into the generational talent that he’s shown flashes of becoming when healthy then Fultz could be a major part of a multi-championship 76ers dynasty going forward.
Question: Can Lonzo Ball be a top 3 player on a NBA title team?
Matt: I say no. There are really two reasons: 1) I don’t think he is a capable enough defender. He is tall, but he is also lean and had difficulty defending point guards who were quick laterally with or without the ball. Nearly every NBA point guard will be a challenge for him to keep in check. 2) He is not dynamic enough with the ball. He is not a shot creator/finisher like Fultz. He cannot produce a shot out of nothing. This is also cemented by his low usage percentage for a top-3 pick (18%). He is a good passer, but he also had an outrageously efficient team around him at UCLA (good luck with the Lakers.) He is not adept at finishing through contact and his ball screen efficiency is tainted by his 27.5% TO rate, as well as his inability to make shots out of the PnR. If you are a top 3 player on a title contender, you don’t have these hangups. Ball can easily be a Rajon Rondo-type passer who hopefully can continue his 3PT shooting efficiency. Other than that, I don’t see him being as valuable as a player like Draymond Green.
Ben: Absolutely he can be. Frankly, Lonzo may have the highest ceiling in this draft, but is considered a lesser player than Fultz due to more glaring deficiencies and off the court concerns. Lonzo may not end up an NBA point guard, but he has the size, length, athleticism and varied offensive game to play three positions in the NBA. While there are concerns about his, ahem, unorthodox shot mechanics and ability to create offense at the next level he demonstrated that with that wonky shot and in limited shot attempts per game he was able to generate eye-popping offensive numbers (top 12 nationally per Kenpom in EFG% and TS%, 73% on 2 point shots and 41% on threes). His passing and court vision is something that I would consider unique for a player his size, and he seems like the type of player that other players want to be on the court with. If he develops more of a killer instinct, cleans up his shot mechanics a bit, and learns to use his length and athleticism defensively then in a few years we could be wondering, much like in Steph Curry’s draft class, how anybody could pass on Lonzo.
Question: How do you see Malik Monk fitting into a NBA lineup and rotation in terms of position and usage?
Matt: Malik Monk’s analog, in my opinion, is Jamal Crawford. We saw some ridiculous scoring performances from Monk throughout his lone season at Kentucky, but the question remains: Can he be consistent? If he is deployed as a starting 2-guard with the expectation of creating shots and playing heavy minutes, I don’t think he will be very successful. In many games, he would disappear for 25 minutes and have a 10 minute stretch worthy of a lottery pick. That tendency doesn’t signal to me that he is going to take on the scoring burden of a team’s starting unit. Monk’s shot chart has a ton of 3s and midrange 2s, which was great because he can make them. However, his inability to get shots at the rim when defended closely makes me relegate him to a bench scoring role, rather than a starter who plays heavy minutes. The final question is his defense. Jordan pointed out that he can block shots — he is long — but he is slight and not exceptionally tall for a wing in the League. If he cannot defend bigger wings or smaller, quicker guards, it is hard to see him in anything other than a secondary role.
Jordan: If there is one thing the league needs right now it’s shooting. Remember the Rockets had an elite shooting 6th man, and traded for another sharp shooting bench player. That’s how in demand shooting is in today’s NBA. While I understand that Malik Monk is undersized to play the “2”, how can you pass up one of the 3 best shooters in the draft? Matt mentioned Jamal Crawford and I think that is something of a worst case for Monk. Some might say that isn’t enough to draft him so high, but look through a list of past drafts and tell me teams wouldnt kill to have gotten a 6th man instead of Darko or Ike Diogu.
Question: Does TJ Leaf bring enough offensive versatility to overcome his perceived defensive inefficiencies?
Jordan: For me this comes down to whether or not you believe that TJ Leaf is going to be able to stretch the floor all the way out to the 3pt line and be another version of Kevin Love. Let’s pretend for a moment that you think he will develop into that. In that absolute best case scenario we are talking about a player that the NBA finals runner-ups are trying to trade to get better. If you are like me and think that his 68% FT shooting is a bad sign for a guy who took 75% of his shots out of half court offense at the rim then, you are looking at a Kevin Love type of player with less ability to stretch the floor.
Ben: From what I saw of TJ Leaf, it’s not exactly fair to compare him to Kevin Love. Love in college and early in his career was more of a post-up first type of player who then morphed into a pick and pop threat. Leaf strikes me as more of a threat on the pick-and-pop at the same stage of his career and a better roll man in the pick and roll game. I actually see a more apt comparison for Leaf as Chandler Parsons, and I think Leaf could develop into a similarly skilled and mobile forward who can play both the three and the four at the NBA level. Leaf this season was a guy who could shoot, roll to the hoop, post up, and handle the ball on the perimeter against larger defenders. I would think that some of that offensive versatility will translate and lead him to be a valuable NBA player.
Question: Does Jayson Tatum have enough of an all-around game to challenge Fultz as the best player in the draft?
Matt: I think so. While he has 2 question marks — passing and defense — a slight uptick in 3PT shooting will make him the most capable scorer in this draft. I don’t think that improvement is unlikely, either, given his FT%. So, really, if Jayson Tatum learns how to pass more effectively and can utilize his size and length defensively, you may be looking at the best player coming out of this draft. Then again, who knows, he could become Rudy Gay or Andrew Wiggins. But he certainly has the skillset to be the best player in this draft and, truthfully, has the most polished offensive game. His passing, strength, and defensive versatility can all be developed. If that happens, whoever drafts him will be really happy.
Ben: Tatum has a solid all-around game and good potential as a shooter, I just don’t think that he has the athleticism that you look for near the top of the draft. That’s not to say he’s a bad athlete, but he seems like a player whose athleticism will hold him back from being considered a great defender. With his athleticism he struggled to offensively create against quicker players and he was an average passer at best. Keeping that in mind, I find it hard to believe that he becomes a creative offensive player at the next level, either for himself or for teammates. I could see him becoming a solid complementary piece as a wing or small ball four in the NBA, but I think in terms of upside Tatum is not in the same category as Fultz.
Question: What is Luke Kennard’s upside and is it enough to make him a lottery pick?
Matt: In this draft, yes, he should be a lottery pick. Aside from Fultz and Tatum, who is a better offensive player? His offensive skillset is mature, savvy, and allows him to score from every level. The question would be can he use his pivots, ball fakes, and other crafty moves more effectively at the next level. But we could ask that about the offensive game of every player in this draft. Kennard is tall, long, and has good athleticism. Add that to the fact that he can score in so many ways, he is worth the pick. Without comparisons, Kennard’s ceiling is a starter who gives you efficient scoring and rebounding contributions. Or, depending on the team, you could hide some perceived defensive weaknesses by bringing him off the bench to guard less talented players. The advantage would be that he could score on bench players more efficiently than starters. With that said, if Kennard can defend NBA wings enough, I think he can be a starter.
Ben: I could definitely see Kennard’s upside as a slightly bigger JJ Redick. Kennard possesses elite shooting ability along with a solid handle and good passing instincts. However, he’s going to be limited by his athleticism and wingspan, and was a defensive liability at times this season for Duke. He has a below average wingspan, and he’s the oldest potential lottery pick at 21 years old. If I am a GM I have a hard time selecting a one-way player with a lottery pick, especially one who I know I will have to hide on the defensive end of the floor. I think Kennard makes a lot of sense in the late teens or early twenties in this draft, but I just can’t see him as a lottery pick.
Question: How does an NBA team utilize Donovan Mitchell?
Jordan: I think that Donovan Mitchell has huge potential to be a 2 way guard. On the defensive side, he put up an elite steals rate and has a massive 6’10” wingspan. On the other side he shoots 3s better than any of the other “elite” PGs in the draft. Ideally, he could fit into a CJ McCollum-esque combo guard role with the addition of defense.
Ben: I could see Donovan Mitchell in a very similar role to the one that Avery Bradley occupies for the Celtics. I think that Mitchell will start out as a two guard or sixth man whose calling card is defense and he can immediately jump into the role of being able to defend both opposing guard spots. His freakishly long wingspan and top-level explosiveness gives him the tools to develop into an All-NBA caliber defender. Offensively, he should develop into a guy who can run the offense a bit, but will likely be more comfortable in a spot-up role. He’s not exactly a true point guard and isn’t as large as most NBA two guards, so he appears more like a combo guard. There’s nothing wrong with that though, especially in the modern, more positionless NBA, where Mitchell’s perimeter defensive versatility should prove to be very valuable.
Question: What is Justin Patton’s role in the modern NBA?
Jordan: Bluntly, he doesn’t have one. There are a lot of raw bigs in this draft, and I am much higher on almost all of them. Patton isn’t a great defender, with 4.4 fouls per 40 minutes and a lower block % than Eric Mika and Derek Pardon. His turnover rate is twice his assist rate (17.7% vs 8.6%). Without shooting, and not being a clear rim protector, there are way more big men that I would take in this draft who fit better into today’s NBA.
Ben: Patton’s role will be determined by how well he can adapt and make use of his numerous physical tools. Patton gave viewers brief glimpses of what he could become with a consistent jumper, more strength, and a tighter handle. For a big man he possesses a good motor, terrific agility, solid feet and dependable hands. He can outrun most players his size in transition and showed flashes of being a smart passer as well as a player who can get past slower big men using his dribble. He was only a so-so rim protector last season and was a below average rebounder for his size, which is concerning for a big man. He did, however, demonstrate some ability to switch screens, contain the pick and roll, and closeout on the perimeter. I could see him becoming a starting caliber or rotation 5 man in the NBA, but that would all be predicated on him developing with proper coaching and combining his raw athleticism with shooting, passing, and handling.
Question: DJ Wilson demonstrated a great deal of skill for a big man near the end of the college season, which of those skills will translate to the NBA and will that be enough to make him worthy of a lottery pick?
Matt: DJ is 6’10, can shoot 3s, and is versatile defensively. That profile screams modern NBA 4-man. His biggest assets are his nearly positionless defense and good shooting numbers for his size. The questions that remain concern his physical readiness to guard more mature NBA players and his passing. DJ is not small, weighing in at 240, but he had a tendency to take mid-range jump shots and 3s despite his athletic advantages. When he did take advantage of his athleticism, teams had difficulty guarding him. Same for defense: DJ often got bullied on the glass and had trouble defending more physical 4s. With increased strength and a new mental approach, he would be an asset able to guard a LaMarcus Aldridge or a Draymond Green. Is he worth a lottery pick? With the lack of 2-way players in this draft, I say yes. His ability to guard 3 positions (at least) and spread the floor offensively puts him in a premium category.
Jordan: I think DJ is being vastly underrated. He’s a good 3pt and FT shooter (37% and 83%) and had a massive block% (5.2). If he can guard 2-3 positions, protect the rim, and stretch the floor, there isn’t much more you can ask of a big man in the NBA today. If he can be a stretch 4 the bulk of the time and a small ball 5 at others, with his ability to get to the rim on one or two dribbles plus his jumper, he will be tough to cover offensively. Couple that with his ability to protect the rim on the other end and he will be a huge piece for an NBA team.
OG Anunoby and Harry Giles
Question: Considering their injuries, are either of them worth a 1st round pick?
Jordan: I don’t want this to sound like someone with an injury history should never get drafted, but we are talking about two players who are massively dependent on their athletic ability. People like to see OG as a Draymond Green type. Let’s start with the fact that his offensive game can’t even sniff Draymond’s (shooting, passing). Also, how can he guard 4 positions if we don’t know if his knees are healthy? I don’t think anyone would be excited about an unathletic Draymond, and he isn’t even close to Draymond skills-wise. As for Giles, it’s hard to get excited about Kenneth Faried 2.0 and again, is he even that? What is his elite skill? Before you say athletic ability, just remember all the knee surgeries. Not a risk I’m willing to take on 2 players who already had risk prior to the injuries.
Ben: When you’re looking for value late in the lottery or in the middle parts of the first round, you’ll always have to take on some risk for high reward types of players. Of course injuries are concerning with both of these players, but let’s not act like their injuries will totally ruin their careers before they even get started. Plenty of good players have returned from knee injuries and have managed to come back stronger. Looking at a player like Giles, his measurables and current on-court strengths are comparable to a young Tyson Chandler. Plenty of teams would love to add that type center near the end of the lottery or in the 20’s. His weaknesses right now, outside of injuries, are that he is raw in most aspects of the game but he possesses solid physical tools for an NBA big man. As for OG, he may be the only forward in this draft who can match Josh Jackson’s athletic ability, and when healthy it would not be out of the question to call OG the best athlete in the draft. OG possesses the physical abilities and build necessary to check the best NBA forwards, while also maintaining the ability to switch onto guards and check big men in the post. His defensive abilities alone make him worthy of a late lottery/mid first round pick and if he’s able to develop his spot-up game he could be the steal of this draft. In a draft where the talent level drops off precipitously in the mid-20s these two high ceiling players are easily worth the risk and should be first rounders.
Question: What is it that keeps Caleb Swanigan from being considered one of the elite picks in this draft, given his age and productivity?
Matt: Defense and image. Similar to college Draymond Green, when people think of Caleb Swanigan they think of an out of shape, lumbering player who lacks requisite athleticism and quickness. It’s obvious that his defense needs to improve to be able to play him solid minutes in the NBA. Versatile bigs like Moritz Wagner gave him fits this year. However, he has worked himself into an incredibly productive scorer and rebounder and his physical attributes have been enhanced by getting into better shape. How do we know he won’t continue to lose weight and get quicker like Draymond did? We can’t know for sure, but if he improves defensively and quickens his feet, Swanigan may be one of the steals of this draft.
Ben: Fat shaming probably. In all seriousness though, I’m not sure what else Swanigan can do to convince people that he’s an elite talent. He changed his body and game phenomenally between his senior year of high school and the end of his sophomore year of college. His workout and conditioning regimen at Purdue was legendary and he’s probably the most intrinsically driven player in this draft. I think that NBA front offices are concerned that his body type and agility will leave him vulnerable defensively and in between positions, but those seem like weak arguments against a guy who posted tremendous shooting and rebounding numbers and will kick the ass of any of the other big men in this draft in the post. Draymond Green is thrown around alot these days as a point of comparison for heavier, between-position prospects, but I think a closer comparison for Biggie is Paul Millsap. I know that most teams, in hindsight, would have taken Millsap in the lottery of the 2006 draft, if not the top 10. Hopefully they won’t make the same mistake with Biggie.
Question: Both of you think much more highly of Jawun Evans than most draft pundits, what do you believe will make Evans worthy of a high draft pick and what do you think will prevent him from being a worse version of Trey Burke?
Matt: Jawun Evans had a 32.7% usage, managed a 43% assist rate and had only a 13% turnover rate. It’s a legitimate questions to ask if his playmaking ability is better than Lonzo Ball given the relative lack of talent surrounding Evans in Stillwater. Offensively, Jawun Evans is a creator – he scored 19 ppg and shot 38% from 3 (albeit on 3 attempts a game) and facilitated the most efficient offense in college basketball. The major concern on offense is his ability to finish at the rim. He shot 45% from 2, but also was responsible for a significant amount of OSU’s offense throughout the game and late in the shot clock. With a more modest usage rate and the ability to be more selective, some of that concern can be alleviated. Remember, Chris Paul shot 45% from 2 his first two years in the NBA, but made adjustments to increase his paint efficiency. With added shot creativity to avoid bigger defenders (i.e. the Mike Conley floater) and consistent 3pt shooting, Evans can be an effective scoring guard who also possesses elite passing ability. Lines between solid players and washouts in the NBA are often razor thin, but if Trey Burke was a lottery pick, so is Jawun Evans.
Jordan: I couldn’t agree more with Matt here. So much so, that I am going to struggle to add to his thoughts. One of the things that makes him different than Trey is his higher steals and rebounding numbers, which indicates to me that he’s probably a little more athletic. He also might be the best pick-and-roll PG in the draft and the best on change of direction dribbles, which he combines with very serviceable shooting numbers. He certainly does need to find a way to finish around the rim, but as is, he has every other skill you would want from an NBA PG. I don’t know of a guard not named Fultz in this draft that has fewer weaknesses than that.