The NBA draft is coming up in less than a month, and overall prospects rankings are starting to calcify. While players will still move up and down draft boards depending on workouts and interviews, the general rankings are mostly set. Having looked at what statistics are important for big men, wings, and point guards in college, as seen over the last decade’s worth of data, it’s time to apply those lessons to the current draft class. Starting with big men, here are a couple prospects that my analysis thinks are underrated, two that seem to be overrated, and a few others that are probably fairly ranked, but have something weird or interesting going on statistically. Just a quick reminder that rebounds, assists, and blocks were the most important positive statistics for big men in determining their NBA success.
2018 Big Men Prospect Statistics
Underrated Prospects by Model:
Jontay is a notable case of looking past my model to an extent. The model goes by per game stats instead of per 40 numbers, so low minutes harmed Porter somewhat. However, even with that limitation, his stats stand out. Jontay can make real reads in an offense and is not hesitant to make plays for others, as his assists show. More importantly, he has the skills to make those passes without also turning the ball over. Jontay had an assist to turnover ratio of over 1, which is good for any big man, and incredible for a freshman who wasn’t expected to have a large role in the offense before the season started. His number of blocks per game is also solid considering playing time, and a sign he has either has positive defensive instincts , or that his functional athleticism is better than his more limited athletic testing would show. There are real worries around his ability to switch onto smaller players on the perimeter, a near requirement in the modern NBA. Still, his feel for the game is fantastic, and he can shoot threes as well, utilizing a smooth lefty stroke. If he pans out, he could be a true stretch five with some playmaking ability and average defense, and that’s an incredibly valuable player in today’s NBA. Of any of the big men who might be available to the Clippers at the 12th and 13th picks, I like Porter the best by far.
Happ is a junior from Wisconsin who doesn’t have astonishing stats or athleticism. His age and lack of exceptional qualities is the reason he’s projected to be a second round pick in the draft, if he gets picked at all. But Happ does have one stat that makes him stand out in my model: 3.3 assists per game. Happ was the main guy at Wisconsin, and had the ball a lot, inflating his assist numbers a bit more than other big men, who didn’t get the same opportunities in the post he did. Still, his passing skills and vision are quite good for a big man, and those are talents that should translate to the NBA. The post game that served him so well at Wisconsin probably won’t work as well at the next level, but Happ has a real aggression to his game that I like, and I think he could be a solid enough backup center at the NBA level. In the mid-late second round, that’s a very good pick, and I’d probably take him higher than that.
Overrated Prospects by Model:
Marvin Bagley III:
There’s a lot to like about Marvin Bagley. He has superb athleticism, and really utilizes it well on the offensive end, accumulating offensive rebounds and thunderous putbacks at a high rate. That tenacity on the boards is probably his strongest trait, as there seems to be little doubt he will be a plus rebounder at the NBA level, and that’s never out of fashion, especially for big men. The down side is that for a huge, athletic player, 0.9 blocks in college is anemic, and a warning sign for his defensive instincts. Blocks by themselves aren’t a sign of great defense, and there’s every possibility that some coaching up in the NBA will get Bagley on track in no time. Still, low blocks are a singularly worrying stat for a big man, and that along with just ok assist numbers (considering usage) depresses his value a bit for me. He’s a good prospect, just not top three for me.
I love Mo Wagner. He’s a legend at University of Michigan (my alma mater) for good reason. He’s one of the most passionate players I’ve watched play basketball for the Wolverines and is an incredibly hard worker. His rebounding was quite poor in his first two seasons of college ball, so he bulked up, improved on boxing out, and made immense strides in that realm in his junior year (though he was still below average). His three-point shooting has continued to improve, and if he’s to make it in the NBA, it will be as a scoring, stretch-center off the bench along the lines of a Marreese Speights or Channing Frye. Mo’s issues are simple: he’s a limited defensive player without much avenue for improvement (due to body type and athleticism), and his decision-making on offense is not the best. He can work on both those things, sure. But right now, he doesn’t have the rebounding or defensive ability to stay on the court in the NBA, and while his shooting is helpful, he’d probably be relegated to spot-ups in an offensive system until he makes quicker decisions with the ball. A 21-year-old prospect without a ton of upside doesn’t seem like a great pick until late in the second round, and even then he will be a project for a team. Still, the right coaching staff could certainly make a useful NBA player out of him.
Other Stats/Notes of Interest:
- I’m somewhat skeptical of DeAndre Ayton due to defense, although the models like him quite a bit due to excellent rebounding, efficient scoring, and solid block and assist numbers.
- Mohamed Bamba’s block numbers are absurd, and while his offensive game needs work, there’s a pretty good chance he will be a special player on defense.
- Jaren Jackson Jr. is similar to Porter in that low minutes per game hurts him in the model. But if you adjusted to per 40, he’d rate out as the best big man prospect in the draft due to overall stellar play.
- Wendell Carter Jr. is awesome, with very nice block and assist rates, and an incredible feel for the game—just phenomenal basketball IQ.
- Robert Williams fares well by the model as well, but I worry about his attitude more than the other top guys, which is why I’m not putting him in the “underrated” section.
Current ranking of NCAA big men who are potential lottery picks:
1. Jaren Jackson Jr.
2. Wendell Carter Jr.
3. DeAndre Ayton
4. Mo Bamba
5. Marvin Bagley
6. Jontay Porter
7. Robert Williams
8. Mitchell Robinson