I wanted to take a few minutes before the NCAA Tournament to discuss the NBA Draft. I know that opinions will change radically depending on which teams get hot or lose early. It might be a good idea to go ahead and talk about the prospects (specifically those in the college game) in these moments of clarity.
Who’s the Best Player?
Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram seem to be everyone’s consensus top prospects. Simmons is a forward that handles the ball well. He’s around 6’10” and weighs 240 pounds. I don’t think he’s a traditional power forward and he reminds me of Lamar Odom. Simmons runs the point for portions of the game and has great vision. Simmons does have flaws (don’t we all?) and I don’t view him as the generational prospect that some people do. He’s got a shaky jumper and didn’t seem to even want the ball in crucial moments against Oklahoma. LSU is 18-13 and plays in the SEC, which is weak this year. Simmons was forced to come off the bench against Tennessee (a blowout loss for the Tigers) due to poor academic performance. He was also removed from Naismith Award consideration due to academics.
Ingram is listed at 6’9″ and 190 pounds. Obviously, he’ll need to add some bulk. He is a traditional small forward. He’s a good shooter, rebounder, and defender. I am concerned about his ability to defend at the next level. Ingram isn’t a vocal leader, but I was impressed with him playing so many minutes as Duke’s injuries mounted. I don’t believe he’s the next Kevin Durant. He struggles with turnovers and Durant was far more aggressive in college. I don’t think Ingram is Duke’s best player even though he’s their best pro prospect. Duke has not been great this season and I’d like to see Ingram’s talent (just like Simmons) equate to more wins.
Buddy Hield takes the award for most overrated. Hield is a 6’4″ guard with a listed weight of 214 pounds. The draft class appears to be fairly weak so it’s not going to be difficult for guys to be truly “overrated.” The networks and analysts are in love with Hield right now and I wouldn’t dispute that he’s having an amazing senior season. Oklahoma is 24-6 and Hield is a big reason why. I admire Hield’s willingness to take big shots and his work ethic. He’s clearly improved this season.
Hield has always been a good 3-point shooter, however, his percentages jumped rapidly this season (increasing from 36% to 48%). I don’t think Hield can consistently create his own shot and has never shown the ability to create for others. Hield averages more turnovers per game (2.9) than assists (2.1). What’s even worse? Hield is averaging the most assists per game of his college career. Hield was also locked down for large portions of the rematch versus the Kansas Jayhawks by smaller defenders.
I know he’s the media darling of college basketball right now and people want to believe he’s the next Steph Curry, but that’s not true. Curry was a great shooter and scorer at Davidson. He could create his own shot and (perhaps most importantly) create shots for others. Curry averaged 5.6 assists per game his final season at Davidson. A more realistic comparison for Hield is Anthony Morrow. Morrow is a smallish shooting guard with a great jumper. He’s a role player and a good defender with similar traits to Hield.
- I think Jamal Murray is the best scorer in the draft and I’d be surprised if he falls out of the top 10. He is considered to be a shooting guard on some sites and others state that he could also play point guard.
- The top of this year’s draft should feature more forwards than guards. I doubt it’s close due to the depth of forwards and post players. Mock drafts show up to five players at 7’0″ or taller drafted in the first round.
- Grayson Allen is an interesting prospect and I’d be surprised if he returned to Duke next year. He’s had a really good season and is the best player on the Duke roster right now. He’s around 6’5″ and has some explosiveness. I don’t know what he’s going to look like in terms of speed and lateral quickness. He might struggle to defend in the NBA. He plays with a lot of edge and toughness.
- Melo Trimble and Tyler Ulis are two of my favorite prospects. Trimble is on a good Maryland team that plays up and down based on the competition. He’s got to lead by example and maintain focus no matter the opponent. Ulis is a great player and if he were just a few inches taller he’d be a lottery pick. He’s averaging 16.6 points and 7.4 assists per game. He’s listed at 5’9″ and weighs (supposedly) 160 pounds. I don’t know if that’s going to translate into a role in the NBA. Isaiah Thomas is the same height and boats a more muscular frame (listed at 185 pounds). I don’t know if Ulis is that type of athlete.
- Denzel Valentine is likely the best player in college hoops. He’s got a balanced set of skills. He’s about 6’6″ and handles the ball well. I don’t know if he’s got a true position. He has a transitioned into a primary ball-handler for the Spartans and that wasn’t his game in previous years. He’s probably a small forward and I think he’s got a limited ceiling in the NBA. He’s a senior and you have to worry about whether he’s reached his potential.
- My final point is centered around the topic of which players have untapped potential or not. I think this is something that is difficult to predict and it’s going to be speculated constantly. The NBA Draft will feature players that are drafted despite youth, inexperience, and lack of college production. Players will also be selected that are older with proven college production. I think what we’ve got to remember is that potential often will outweigh production from college basketball. Kemba Walker has been good in the NBA and was sensational in college. I’d also point out that Jimmer Fredette was the AP POY that season (not Walker) and averaged almost 30 points per game. The evaluation that takes place isn’t simple and is often taken one player at a time.