I watched a lot of basketball so far this year and this is what I’ve seen. This class has gotten a lot of hype, but seems fairly normal. The guys at the top of the draft all have incredible potential, but are also risky and will need years before they seriously contribute in the NBA. However, compared to last year’s worst of all time draft, a normal draft seems pretty good.
Analytics are some part of my analysis as well. If you’re interested in that, follow @vjl_ball for good draft stuff. Stats that generally transfer over at the same rate in the NBA as in college are steals, blocks, and rebounds. Numbers that really matter for NBA projection are steals, A/TO ratio, age, and early college production. Players that get more steals, have a better A/TO ratio, are younger, and produced early in college generally have better odds of turning out than those that didn’t going by history. The stats and measurements referenced are from Sports Reference, Hoop Math, and Draftexpress. Measurements are accurate back from high school.
And make sure to check out vjl’s draft model.
As well as all of the great content on draftexpress.com
1. Joel Embiid (C, Kansas, Freshman)
23.1 MPG, 11.2 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.4 APG, 2.6 BPG, 0.9 SPG, 2.4 TOs, 3.4 PFs, 62.6% from the field, 68.5% from the line, 65.5 TS%, 28.2 PER, .213 WS/48
Joel Embiid’s stock has fluctuated throughout the season. He went from an unknown at the beginning of the year to the consensus #1 pick in the middle before falling back slightly due to a back injury. I don’t know the extent or importance of his back injury and that may be an issue. If it is not a serious concern, then Embiid is the most talented player in the draft by far. Embiid possesses size and agility that is almost never seen. Embiid is a true seven footer with the ability to dance around the court like a wing. With this combination, his spins and pivots are beautiful and effective. He has the quickness and size to attack the basket to dunk and draw fouls. He moves well with ball handlers on the pick-and-roll and has the speed to recover back to the paint. These recoveries are often spectacular as layup attempts are blown up with Embiid demonstrating all of his speed and athleticism.
Even when stationary and not in a position where mobility is at its utmost importance, Embiid is effective due to his massive size. He is the best rebounder in this draft at 14 rebounds per 40 minutes despite still learning proper technique for rebounding. For rim protection, his presence altered shot after shot for Kansas’ opponents. His 4.5 blocks per 40 minutes is an elite number and a number that might understate his impact as ballhandlers frequently shied away from the paint when he was there. What might show his true impact is how much Kansas’ defense fell apart after his injury. His size is also a boon on offense obviously. Embiid is a giant target for dumpoffs and lobs and will finish everything around the basket.
Embiid’s skills are more of a work in progress, but are advanced for a player who has only been in organized basketball for 30 months. Embiid has a wide variety of post moves of varying effectiveness, each of which have great intrigue. His suddenness, size, and balance in executing these moves are key, but he has the understanding of when to execute his moves and the touch to complete them. His hook, Dream Shake, and up-and-under are still in development, but they are extremely encouraging for a player with this limited of experience. Embiid has all of the talent and ability to become a superstar on both ends of the court.
Embiid’s weaknesses (other than his back unknowns) come from inexperience and too much aggression. Embiid bites far too often on pump fakes in the paint. This can lead to some missed opportunity, but is a problem more because it leads to his 6 fouls per 40 minutes average. He improved dramatically in this area as the season went along, but it is still something to worry about. Embiid also tends to over-pursue and overplay the pick-and-roll at times, biting too hard on movements from the ball handler and allowing penetration. His aggression and inexperience are also present on offense. Defenses began to double and triple Embiid, and tried to take charges against him as the season went along. This frustrated him and led to him committing far too many charging penalties down the stretch of the season, pushing his turnover rate to dangerous levels in conference play. His turnovers seemed to spike when his back problems started and may be related to him trying to take the easy way out as his agility was limited. Regardless of the reason, he must turn the ball over less frequently in the post.
But those issues are issues of inexperience. Embiid has played basketball for less than three years, of course he’s going to have some issues with patience. Embiid has the size and athleticism to be dominant and has improved mentally and skill-wise more in the last couple of years than some players ever do. Embiid was coming off the bench as an 18 year old in high school and was dominant throughout large chunks of the college basketball season. That’s a growth curve you want to see from a project. Embiid might take a couple of years to reach his potential, but it will be worth it.
2. Dante Exum (SG/PG, Australia, 18 years old)
Statistics (From the Fiba u19 tournament):
29 MPG, 18.2 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.1 BPG, 2.3 TOs, 2 PFs, 44.6% from the field, 33.3% from three, 61% from the line, 53.5 TS%.
Exum does many things on the court well, but at his core, he’s a guy who gets to the paint. Exum’s quickness and explosiveness help enable much of this. It’s common to see Exum accelerating and splitting through defenders, leaving them looking like characters in a Zack Snyder movie for a moment as he gets to the basket with haste. Moments of simple but classic domination also apply. If a defender gets too anxious, Exum will blow by him with a single step and be at the rim, dunking with authority, a second later. Even with how explosive and quick he is, his best traits are his pace and body control at 6’6".
Exum knows when to speed up and when to slow down. He recognizes holes in the defense that he can get into to get to the rim. The holes he needs are smaller than the other players as he can dart in and out of the defense and maneuver well in traffic. He can use his butt as a buffer to create space. He can dribble through spaces that multiple defenders are trying to occupy. He can side-step around guys trying to take a charge. He can contort his body in mid-air to avoid the arms of shotblockers. And his size allows him to still be able to finish around the rim while performing these difficult maneuvers. He has the physical tools to do almost anything you can think of to get to the rim, and he knows when to use each and every type of move to get to the basket. While he prefers to score at the basket, he’s also unselfish enough to hit the open man if the defense collapses. With his physical traits and understanding, he has a chance to be a great player in the NBA.
However, Exum does bring uncertainty and risk to the table as well. Exum was 17 years old when he last played serious competition. By the time of the draft, it will have been 11 months since those games. How much he’s learned in those 11 months is important and will be difficult to tell.
His age is a mitigating factor, but there are still concerns, defense among them. Exum’s length and quickness allow him to contain penetration against ballhandlers well at times, but his fundamentals on defense are miserable. Exum’s offball defense involves him mostly standing around, staring at the ball as if entranced. Exum will often fail to step in and help stop players cutting or penetrating to the basket when he could in this mesmerized state. He can also lose his man if the player he’s defending knows how to run through screens. Exum can fail to notice what’s happening until his man is already a few seconds away, ready to score. These issues are probably to be expected from a 17 year old, but they still need to be fixed.
Exum’s jumpshot is another issue. Exum shoots a flat shot with often rushed footwork and his shot is just inaccurate at this point. According to Draftexpress, Exum only shot 4-23 on off the dribble jumpers in FIBA u19 play. In FIBA and Adidas play, he shot 66% from the line. Both numbers must obviously improve. Exum could still be effective on offense without a jumpshot, but he will most likely be a star if he improves his jumper.
Picking Exum is picking risk and uncertainty, but his level of athleticism and offensive talent is too strong to pass up. He has all the tools to be an elite level scorer and shotcreator in the NBA.
Dante Exum has several games available to watch:
As a warning, the last game is a u17 game instead of a u19 game so his teammates are so bad as to make the game extremely difficult to watch.
3. Jabari Parker (PF/SF, Duke, Freshman)
30.7 MPG, 19.1 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.2 BPG, 2.3 TOs, 2.4 PFs, 47.3% from the field, 35.8% from three, 74.8% from the line, 55.8 TS%, 28.4 PER, .205 WS/48
8’8" standing reach
Jabari Parker is a "Pure Scorer" in all the ways that the term has come to encompass. Parker can score in every way there is. He can fake a guy out via the triple-threat to either get a clean look for a jumper or a lane to the basket. He can beat his man off the dribble with his crafty handle. He can use his body to seal off his man for a quick score on a postup. He can maneuver without the ball and score off spotup jumpers or off cuts to the basket. Everything is quick, sudden, and effective.
Unfortunately, Parker has the standard negative traits of the "Pure Scorer" as well. His athleticism is average at best and leads to him getting frequently blocked in the paint. His athletic concerns come through even more on the defensive end. His 8’8" standing reach makes him small for a PF (for comparison, Millsap and Melo are 8’9.5") while his below average lateral quickness will probably keep him from being able to defend SFs effectively. Parker’s substandard defensive tools are compounded by his occasional lapses in focus and his tendency to wildly gamble for steals at inopportune times. The negatives of purely scoring apply to offense as well. Parker is fairly strict against passing the basketball (1.1 ASTs per 40 minutes in ACC play). When he gets the ball, he’s taking the shot regardless of how good the look is.
If Parker can translate his scoring to the NBA, he should be a positive enough force to make up for his below average defense. A guy who can score 20-23 PPG on good efficiency is valuable in the extreme regardless of their other components to their game. The main concern with Parker will be if he’s quick enough to get clean looks in the NBA. If he is as quick as he looked in college, he could be a multiple time all-star. If he only looked quick because he was going against college centers, he may just be Tobias Harris. Parker has less risk than other top prospects, but that shouldn’t be confused as having no risk.
4. Marcus Smart (SG/PG, Oklahoma State, Sophomore)
32.7 MPG, 18 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 4.8 APG, 2.9 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 2.6 TOs, 2.9 PFs, 42.2% from the field, 29.9% from three, 72.8% from the line, 55.2 TS%, 26.9 PER, .220 WS/48
8’4" standing reach
Smart came into this year as a projected top 5 pick, but after a series of emotional meltdowns (from fans, to chairs, to fans in chairs) on the court and a disappointing season for his team, he is unlikely to go in that range. However, he still has the ability for a spot that high.
Smart’s appeal starts on the defensive end. He has excellent lateral quickness and great strength. This allows him to guard multiple positions on the court and prevent penetration from anywhere. His anticipation and tenacity are even stronger traits. His ballhawking netted him 3.5 steals per 40 minutes in college. He can pick the pockets of ball handlers, get steals off of double teams, or play the passing lanes for more swipes. All of these efforts Smart takes seriously as he gets after it on the defensive end. He plays every possession to the fullest extent of his abilities and without fear. This tenacity and anticipation help him in the paint, where he is a frequent charge-taker. For accuracy’s sake, his shameless flopping is also beneficial in that area.
On offense, Smart attacks, and not just against chairs or Manu’s flop record. Smart both bullies and slithers his way into the paint. He can overwhelm weak players or use his coordination and quickness to beat his man off the dribble. Once in the paint, his body control allows him to either score or draw fouls. He won’t be able to overpower NBA guards as easily, which will be an adjustment and is a concern. However, Smart’s ability to maneuver and attack should translate over to the NBA, and his strength will still be a positive in scoring inside.
Smart has two major weaknesses. First, he is a bad shooter. Second, he thinks he is an excellent shooter. Smart shot a miserable 30% from the field away from the rim according to Hoopmath. His misses are wild in both process and result. Smart will frequently pull up for a heavily contested jumper with 28 seconds left on the shot clock. Sometimes, these shots miss everything but the backboard. Even open, set shots from Smart can miss badly.
Smart has the characteristics to be a good player. His defense and interior scoring will make him valuable to any team and his great statistics (especially steals) also suggest success. To become a great player, however, Smart must become a good shooter and that could be challenging.
5. Andrew Wiggins (SF, Kansas, Freshman)
32.8 MPG, 17.1 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.0 BPG, 2.3 TOs, 2.7 PFs, 44.8% from the field, 34.1% from three, 77.5% from the line, 56.3 TS%, 21.4 PER, .170 WS/48
Wiggins is not at #1 on my board, but he’s still a good prospect with elite attributes. The most obviously elite attributes shine through on defense. Wiggins could be a perimeter stopper in the NBA. His quickness is excellent and leads to him containing or pursuing his man with ease. Wiggins glides from side-to-side to stop penetration from ball handlers. Players that get cut off by Wiggins’ quickness then have to go up against his impressive length and quick leaping ability if they try to shoot. He can deny opportunity outright instead of just stymieing it as well. His speed, quickness, and frame help him keep up with shooters through screens. The same talents help him run shooters off spotup opportunities. He is an exciting defensive prospect who could become all-defense level. His intensity level ebbed and flowed, but he took tough defensive assignments throughout the season and seemed to play with high effort levels down the stretch.
Where I am not high on Wiggins relates to his offense. Wiggins is a limited offensive player despite averaging 17 PPG. The majority of his offense in college came from transition scoring, drawing fouls, and offensive rebounds off of his own misses. These baskets came entirely from Wiggins being able to out-quick opponents to spots. That Wiggins was able to physically overwhelm defenders in college is certainly a positive, but I don’t think he will be able to translate these methods of scoring to the NBA. In the NBA, his quickness advantage will be diminished due to the superior competition, and I think this will show his other problems.
Wiggins’ main problem is that he is uncoordinated (relative to NBA wings obviously). When Wiggins attempts to change direction or tempo when dribbling, he loses his balance. This loss of balance cripples his scoring. After he loses his balance when trying to attack – if he doesn’t manage to launch himself into a defender to get to the line – Wiggins is in trouble. In this process, Wiggins struggles to control his body or the ball. At the end of these half-court situations, Wiggins will get into the paint, fail to elevate, give the ball too much force, and end up missing a layup attempt. If he does not go all the way to the rim, he’ll have to settle for a generally off-balance and low efficiency jumpshot.
This coordination problem seems difficult to fix. Coordination is more of a natural than learnable trait. Wiggins has also had years of coaching to work on this major problem as he has been on the serious basketball radar for five years at this point. It’s hard for me to envision Wiggins scoring off quickness alone against the quick, coordinated players of the NBA.
But past that negativity, Wiggins still has the athleticism and length to be a good player and prospect. While he won’t be able to score like a star off his quickness alone, he should be able to score enough to be a threat from his attributes. His spotup shooting has also shown decent form and potential. And again, his main appeal now and moving forward is his elite defensive potential. If he can harness his physical ability in that direction, he could be an impactful player for any team. I just disagree about the probability of his stardom.
6. Noah Vonleh (PF, Indiana, Freshman)
26.5 MPG, 11.3 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 0.6 APG, 0.9 SPG, 1.4 BPG, 2.1 TOs, 2.7 PFs, 52.3% from the field, 48.5% from three, 71.6% from the line, 60.4 TS%, 22.2 PER, .182 WS/48
8’10" standing reach
Like Embiid and Exum, Vonleh is a player with terrific upside but with enough issues to be a risk. Defensively is where Vonleh’s future strengths are more visible. Vonleh’s toughness allows him to establish position down in the paint, and he has the length (7’4" wingspan) and hands to secure the rebounds that come near his position. With these traits, Vonleh amassed 27.3% of possible defensive rebounds last year, tied with Embiid for the best among serious NCAA prospects. This rate would be 4th best among NBA PFs, behind only Kevin Love, Tim Duncan, and Reggie Evans.
Vonleh’s pick-and-roll defense is nearly as impressive. He is light on his feet and slides from his man to the ball handler without trouble. He works hard in coverage and seems to make the right reads of where to position himself. His length and hands help him cover the passing lanes as well.
Vonleh does still have issues on defense. He’s far too aggressive and also lacks strength, leading to foul problems. These issues seem to be correctable based on my perception of player development, but may be concerns. A larger concern is Vonleh’s rim protection. His 2.1 blocks per 40 minutes overstate his actual ability in that area. Vonleh is a slow jumper who needs time to gather himself before leaping into the air. This leads to him having to surrender some layups that would be altered, though perhaps not blocked, by other big men. His rim protection is still decent and would be good next to a shot blocking center.
His warts on offense are more severe but he still shows potential. Vonleh’s most intriguing suit on offense is his shooting. Vonleh shot 49% from three and has a smooth shooting motion. Vonleh only shot 35% from midrange and 71% from the line so he may not be completely there as a shooter, however. That describes other aspects of Vonleh’s game as well. He showed a willingness to postup and some hopeful signs of using his length and quickness, but turned the ball over so much that he was ineffective. That relates to his faceup game as well. His handle and first step are strong, but he again lacks the court awareness and counter-moves to score efficiently and turns the ball over too much.
The most serious problem for Vonleh is his inside finishing ability. His 59% at the rim pales in comparison to other big men (Gordon, Embiid, and Randle are all above 70%) and guards such as Jordan Adams and Marcus Smart (65%) are easily more effective. His lack of strength and slow jumping seem to be the main culprits here and could be difficult to fix. He will have to compensate for this issue in the NBA.
Vonleh has problems and likely won’t contribute much in his first couple of years in the NBA, but could be valuable down the road. Floor spacing and defense are at a premium among NBA big men, but these specialties are often at odds with each other. However, Vonleh has the potential to bring both aspects to a team. A big man who can shoot the three, grab 10-12 rebounds a game, play great pick-and-roll defense, and create some shots is a big man who can help any NBA team a great amount.
7. Kyle Anderson (PG/SG/SF/PF, UCLA, Sophomore)
33.2 MPG, 14.6 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 6.5 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 3.1 TOs, 1.7 PFs, 48% from the field, 48.3% from three, 73.7% from the line, 56.6 TS%, 24.7 PER, .189 WS/48
9’0" standing reach
Kyle Anderson is a strange player. His 9’0" standing reach (for comparison’s sake, Kanter is 9’1.5" and Favors is 9’2") and lack of quickness are center-like, but he’s a point guard. Anderson makes up for his mediocre athleticism with his size, skill, and intelligence. For intelligence, Anderson’s anticipation and vision are tremendous. He sees plays happening ahead of time and capitalizes on any opportunity he sees. He will hit the open man and get steals on defense time after time. He can set himself up for these plays with his length. Anderson’s strides are long and his arms even longer. He utilizes these to glide past his defender on offense while having the reach to pick his man’s pocket on the other end. His coordination is also good and keeps his handle and gambles under control and effective.
The 9’0" standing reach Anderson possesses shows up in the paint as well. Anderson eats up the defensive glass (25.5 DRB%) and overwhelms guards that try to check him. He can either punish them down to where he gets a layup attempt in the paint or shoot over them at any time. This ability to get his shot off easily is especially valuable for Anderson as he was an effective shooter (43% from midrange, 48% from three) this year.
The problems with Anderson relate to his footspeed. Anderson was easily driven past by several of UCLA’s opponents. This poor perimeter defense is an issue as Anderson may not have the strength to defend interior players. This lack of quickness may also show up on offense in the NBA. Anderson easily penetrated into the lane in college, but may be constrained in the NBA against quicker opponents. Then again, he got wherever he wanted against Aaron Gordon.
Anderson may struggle in the NBA due to his lack of quickness, but I wouldn’t bet on that. Anderson’s length, BBIQ, skill level, and stats (2nd on VJL’s big board) are too dominant. He’s too good at too much to not believe in him personally.
8. Jusuf Nurkic (C, Cedevita, 19 years old)
Statistics (From Adriatic league):
16.4 MPG, 11.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 0.7 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 1.7 TOs, 3.2 PFs, 55.9% from the field, 71.1% from the line, 61 TS%.
9’1.5" standing reach
Jusuf Nurkic is a large individual. He is seven feet tall with a 280 pound frame that can likely handle more muscle than he currently has on it. Nurkic plays like his size. He punishes players on the block to open up easy looks or to get to the foul line. This size is beneficial on the glass as well. Nurkic shifts players out of position on the offensive end and holds position on defense, allowing him to amass rebounds. Nurkic utilizes his size better than some other big men by playing with abandon and aggression. His thunderous attempts at dunking are rewarded with baskets as players are just unable to stop 280 pounds of energy.
Nurkic brings surprising skill and quickness to the table as well. His moves are often deliberate, but his spins and first-step are good enough to get by defenders. He can also move his feet on pick-and-roll defense well, giving hope for his potential on that end. For the skill side, Nurkic’s 70% FT shooting is a major plus to a player who draws so much contact and could show pick-and-pop potential. He has also flashed some ball handling moves. All of these factors contribute to Nurkic’s monster 28 points and 14 rebounds per 40 minute averages in the Adriatic league at only 19 years old.
Nurkic has great potential, but also has critical weaknesses. His discipline and decision making are currently inadequate. His pick-and-roll coverage on defense involves him wildly going for steals and playing with his hands instead of his feet. Pump fakes are an invitation for Nurkic to lunge forward in a misguided block attempt. On offense, every postup for Nurkic is a good possession for him to shoot in his mind. These problems lead to Nurkic’s ridiculous 8 fouls per 40 minutes average and some hookshots that miss by two or three feet. The counter to this is obviously that Nurkic is still only 19 years old. His lack of discipline/BBIQ is concerning, but his youth does dispel some of the fear.
Nurkic does have other issues that are less important but still affect him. Most clearly, he has some baby fat that he needs to lose, but this should also be helped with age. What probably won’t improve with age is his leaping as Nurkic can’t really jump (23" max vertical). This hasn’t affected him on offense but limits his shot blocking on defense. How Nurkic reacts to playing heavier minutes (he only averages 16 MPG in Europe) and against stronger opponents is also something to worry about. His game is based on aggression and strength; both advantages may be diminished in the NBA.
These problems could limit Nurkic’s career, but he has enough size to be a star. Players as big as him are not common and he has the skill, athleticism, and motor to make the most of his size. Nurkic could dominate the paint in the NBA if he continues to improve.
You can watch Jusuf Nurkic play on abaliga.com. Just search for "Cedevita full match"
9. Dario Saric (PF, Cibona, 20 years old)
Statistics (From the Adriatic league):
32.5 MPG, 16.3 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 3.3 TOs, 3.1 PFs, 50.2% from the field, 31% from three, 68.2% from the line, 57 TS%.
The worst-case draft scenario for the Jazz according to many on Twitter, Saric is actually a pretty solid player. Saric first impresses on the defensive end. Saric has a good sense of when to stay with his man, when to help, when to boxout, and when to contest shots. He can smoothly go from defending a postup to moving over to help on a guard before heading back to boxout his man while appearing as natural as if he was an NBA veteran. He also plays exceptionally hard on defense and uses a great deal of energy to closeout on shooters and to contest shots. He lacks the length and athleticism to be an elite defender, but he looks like a plus on that end. One other note for his defense is that he is exceptionally physical when protecting the rim. This helps Cibona, but many of his contests will be called fouls in the NBA. It seems like he could struggle with foul trouble for his first year or two in the NBA because he is so physical on defense but that should be corrected over time.
Offensively is where Saric received the billing of phenom coming up through European youth leagues due to his strong ball handling skills at 6’10". While his handles stand out when he’s in transition, it’s hard to see him ever being that effective at shot creation in the half-court. Saric just doesn’t have the quickness to get by most defenders off the dribble and his isolations usually turn into something awkward with ineffective results. He tries to create far too much considering his ineffectiveness, but his decision making will hopefully improve with age.
However, Saric still is a quality offensive player. He understands well how to move to without the ball to get open and has a soft touch around the basket. His jumpshot still isn’t there yet and is flat enough to be worrying, but if he does gain that jumpshot, he could be a terrific pick-and-roll threat because of his talent at cutting. Saric is also a great passer who finds players in an often spectacular fashion with just touch passes after a dive to the basket on the pick-and-roll. Saric is probably not athletic enough to be a star, but as long as he improves his jumpshot and gains weight (two of the ifs that are argued as easiest to improve in the NBA but certainly are majors ifs), he should be a good starting 4 in the NBA. There are rumors that Saric may want to stay in Europe for two years, but this could be beneficial to the Jazz. Events such as those would likely be the only reason Saric could fall to the Jazz at the Warriors pick. Having fewer than three rookies would also likely be a boon to a team as young as this.
Like with Nurkic, you can watch Saric’s games on abaliga.com. Search for "Cibona full match"