Season 1 Episode 2 “The Bottle Episode”
This is the second part of my preseason NBA draft big board. The introduction and explanation of the process is in the first part. This edition will have prospects ranked between 26-45, as per usual in a reverse, countdown style order.
45. Juwan Evans PG, Oklahoma St ’96 – Evans has at times been compared to Chris Paul, partially due to a slight resemblance in their facial features and physique. However, despite a ball dominant style similar to Paul’s, Evans is nowhere near the type talent Paul was at the same age. He is a tough, hard-nosed player but his diminutive stature is a major cause of concern for his future. Only the most athletic and skilled players standing below 6 foot have been able to be a consistent presence on NBA rosters. As by far the most talented player on this Cowboys team, Evans should put up some big numbers this year. He scored 42 points against Oklahoma last season but had just 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting the following game. Evans becoming a consistently dominant court presence will be a huge step toward overcoming his underwhelming physical tools.
44. Mustapha Heron SG, Auburn ’97 – A left-handed wing bruiser who loves to operate from the high post and can score in bunches. Heron’s game immediately brings up images of Shabazz Muhammad. He isn’t quite as dominant as Muhammad was in high school but has some of the same abilities as a scorer. Furthermore, while Muhammad never really took advantage of his physical tools on the defensive end, Heron has shown some solid effort there and often took on the assignment of guarding the oppositions top scorer. Clearly, as any young player who has yet to even play a game in college, he still has a lot of work to do as a defender, but his talent and effort makes him fairly promising in that regard. Bruce Pearl has done a great job rebuilding this program and with Heron on board, alongside finally eligible Danjel Purifoy, talented big man Horace Spencer and steady guards Ronnie Johnson and Jared Harper, Auburn could finally make the tournament this year. Heron is unlikely to be a one and done unless he really impresses but another year or two down the line he may get some first round looks, as a big, fairly athletic wing, exactly the type of player that many NBA teams are in dire need of.
43. Devonte Graham PG, Kansas ’95 – Graham should be a solid 3-and-D point guard at the next level. He doesn’t have the best frame, which may cause him some issues against stronger, more physical PGs, but he has good length at his size and has really improved defensively throughout his career under Bill Self. He was always a good shooter and his percentages from last season become more impressive when you consider that a large portion of his jump shots were unassisted and came off the dribble. He doesn’t have the explosive first step to consistently get into the lane but playing off the ball next to Frank Mason actually keeps Graham somewhat underrated as a ball handler and playmaker. The top of this class should have some excellent PGs, but at the end of the first and beginning of the second round it doesn’t seem like there will be that many of them available. For a team looking for a solid back-up at that stage, Graham can certainly fill an important role.
42. Allonzo Trier SG, Arizona ’96 – Trier is a pure scorer, who made some strides on the defensive end last year under Sean Miller. He needs to continue working on his outside shot and defense. If he is able to extend his range and be comfortable out to the NBA three, he has nice potential as a future offensive spark plug coming off the bench for some NBA team and could carve out a career similar to a better defensively/worse offensively Lou Williams.
41. Justin Jackson SF, North Carolina ’95 – Jackson remains an inconsistent player and has been somewhat disappointing defensively, where his size and solid lateral quickness haven’t yet translated to actual production. Offensively, his three-point shot comes and goes and development in that area will be immensely important for him this year. He does have the perfect height and frame for an NBA wing and may even be able to play some small ball power forward, tools that are highly valued in today’s NBA and will almost surely get him drafted eventually. His array of floaters and flip shots is also undeniable, reminiscent of former Tar Heel Antawn Jamison. However, Jackson is nowhere near the athlete that Jamison was, nor does he have Jamison’s pure scoring instincts. With Brice Johnson gone, Jackson needs to take on a leadership role for UNC and if he proves himself to be the best player on this talented squad, his solid measurements should help him become a highly appealing prospect. Another Tar Heel, Harrison Barnes, comes to mind here, as Barnes earned his reputation not for any one thing but more so for being an average to good player in a wide variety of attributes. Jackson could perhaps be a poor man’s version, which isn’t so bad when you look at Barnes’ contract from this past summer.
40. Killian Tillie PF, Gonzaga ’98 – Tillie is perhaps the most underrated incoming college freshman. There’s been very little mention about him, considering he is a player that dominated all the European youth tournaments he has participated in, including being named the MVP of the FIBA U16 Championship in 2014, after leading France to the gold medal. Frank Ntilikina and Johnathan Jeanne are being hyped as the future of French basketball and while it’s easy to see why people see them as higher ceiling players than Tillie, he is the same age as Ntilikina and younger than Jeanne but at this moment is probably the best player of the three. Tillie is a classic stretch 4, being a skinny 6’10 with a solid outside jumper. However, what separates him from some of the other past European bigs, is his underrated athletic ability. Tillie can really move and was one of the better defenders I saw at his position in recent European youth play. He blocks shots and rebounds well and while he isn’t strong enough to guard some of the bigger centers, he can in a pinch switch between all three front court positions and perhaps even against some slower guards. He reminds me of the new breed of European stretch fours, Juancho Hernangomez is very similar in particular, with Tillie of course being much younger and less developed for now. Tillie will probably come off the bench to start his career at Gonzaga but he has the talent to not only be drafted but, with the right development and opportunity to rise as high as the middle of the first round, getting picked around 15, which is where Hernangomez ended up being taken. Of course, that’s an if, and it’s too early to rank him that high before he has ever played the college game but he so far has certainly impressed and is another sleeper to watch in the future.
39. Omer Yurtseven C, North Carolina St. ’98 – Yurtseven has excellent touch 10 feet in and moves well as a roll man. He has steadily improved since first bursting on the scene as a fifteen-year old, and that development has some draft media believing that he will eventually develop a consistent outside jump shot. So far evidence of such improvement is prone to skepticism at best and while his defense was solid in international youth competition, he lacks the athletic ability to ever be an elite interior defensive presence. This makes him mostly a one-way player, perhaps comparable to a Jonas Valanciunas. At the same time, Valanciunas had a bigger frame and better length than Omer at the same stage. Yurtseven’s pick-n-roll defense is also strikingly horrible and he has issues playing against tougher, stronger players. Ultimately, Yurtseven may struggle to find consistent playing time at the next level due to the undeveloped perimeter game and some of his physical limitations. Being a fluid 6’11 with nice touch is impressive enough to get him this spot on the big board but the hopes for him, honestly aren’t high here.
38. Jarron Cumberland SG, Cincinnati ’97 – Cumberland is another underrated prospect. He is a bulky SG with natural scoring feel and a solid jump shot. He is a bit undersized at the two and isn’t an elite athlete but should be able to make an impact for an overlooked Cincinnati team pretty quickly. The Bearcats could be a top ten NCAA team for at least the next few seasons, as long as Cumberland and players like Jacob Evans and Gary Clark stick around. Mick Cronin has done a great job building the program and his defensive minded style seems like the perfect foil for Cumberland’s game. Another guy who probably won’t enter in 2017 but is worth watching and following as his college career progresses.
37. Kerwin Roach SG, Texas ’96 – Roach is easily one of the most athletic returning players in the country. The Texas backcourt, with Roach next to Andrew Jones, is going to be tough to guard for college teams and as far as run and jump athletes, it’s probably one of the top three in the country. Last year Roach showed some improvement over the course of the season and hopefully that continues and he is able to knockdown outside shots consistently while playing good defense against both back court positions. He isn’t a PG and lack of size puts somewhat of a limit on his draft potential, but he could easily end up getting picked late in the first round.
36. Dwayne Bacon SF, Florida St. ’95 – Another terrific athlete, Bacon doesn’t have the speed of Roach but is a much bigger and stronger player. His style of play is reminiscent of Jaylen Brown. Brown’s excellent combine measurements allowed teams to consider him as a possible small ball four and that helped his stock. Brown is of course considered a superior prospect because Bacon is not quite as athletic, lacks some of Brown’s ball handling, and is actually a year older than Brown. Hopefully he’ll be able to prove himself as a better shooter than he was as a freshman, when he shot only 28 percent on three pointers. If he’s able to shoot in the high 30s and Florida State has a strong season in the ACC, he can make a run into the top 25. He measured 6’5 without shoes with a 6’8 wingspan back in 2013, and it’s possible that he’s added a couple inches to those numbers in the past three years. It would be a huge boost to his stock if he was to measure out something like 6’7 with a 6’10 wingspan.
35. Jordan Bell PF, Oregon ’95 – Bell had been one of my biggest sleepers the last two seasons, but it looks like others following the draft are finally starting to catch on. Bell’s name has popped up in several recent big boards and mock drafts. He’ll probably never have the offensive repertoire to be an effective power forward, but he can be extremely valuable as a small ball center, especially as his frame fills out and he gets stronger. With the mobility of a guard and impeccable timing as a shot blocker, he has all the makings of an elite rim protector. He should also be able to switch out on perimeter players effectively and is actually slightly underrated as a passer. He won’t provide much offensive value, but in a league full of talented scorers, players like Bell fill in the gaps that allow teams to reach the next level in their developmental process. For the right team, he has the potential to unlock some terrific defensive line ups. If things break right he can have a career similar to players like Bo Outlaw or even Andrei Kirilenko.
34. Jessie Govan C, Georgetown ’97 – A true back-to-basket big, Govan’s ability to adjust in an increasingly smaller and faster basketball world is up for questioning. He is very skilled and very young, though, so there’s still plenty of hope. Size will always have value and at the very least, teams can use him as a change of pace, post-oriented back up. With proper development he can use his strength and touch around the basket to abuse hapless undersized centers that are becoming more common in this small ball era, in other words guys like the aforementioned Jordan Bell. What makes Govan even more intriguing is his ability to hit the college three. If he is able to extend his range beyond the NBA three-point line and work on his interior defense, someone will fall in love with him in the first round.
33. Chimezie Metu PF, USC ’97 – Even as a player who won’t turn 20 until March of 2017, Metu is extremely unpolished at this point of his career. He saw his minutes increase in conference play last year and seemed to steadily improve on his skill set throughout, but then struggled at Adidas Nations this summer. His potential as an NBA player is centered around his off the charts athletic ability. At 6’11, he doesn’t have elite length but led USC in both dunks and blocks last season thanks to his impressive standing vertical leap and spectacular second jump ability. Metu’s defensive rebounding difficulties are representative of his rudimentary fundamentals and a crude understanding of positioning. He did a nice job generating put-back opportunities but is overall even more raw offensively. Still, the top flight quickness and explosiveness he’s displayed isn’t that common among guard prospects, let alone someone with his size. As long as Metu is able to demonstrate steady improvement, his unique talent should get him some looks in the first round, even if he still isn’t an especially effective player.
32. Marques Bolden C, Duke ’98 – There are mixed reviews on Bolden for now. His size and wing span are impressive and he took another small step forward during his senior season in high school. However, his inefficient scoring and questionable rebounding numbers were disappointing at the Nike AAU circuit, despite his size and length. His mobility isn’t great but above average at his size. It’ll also be interesting to see how his interior defense develops at Duke, where in recent seasons Coach K’s teams did most of their damage on the offensive end. Jahlil Okafor and Jabari Parker came out of Duke with some major questions about their defense and so far, those concerns have followed them throughout their pro careers. There’s also a logjam of front court talent at Duke this season. I hope Harry Giles is back sooner than later but even before he returns, at least one of the Duke forwards/centers will end up the odd man out. For now, that’s likely to be Javin DeLaurier but when Giles comes back, Chase Jeter and Bolden both have a chance to join that list. In general, there is a lot of questions about what exactly Duke’s rotations will be like this year.
31. Blaz Mesicek SG, Union Olimpija ’97 – Blaz’s smooth off the dribble game is almost unmatched in Europe. Since he’s a Slovenian lefty, Goran Dragic’s unique ability to get to the basket quickly comes to mind. Mesicek is lengthier and more fluid, but isn’t the shooter that Dragic is and lacks some of Goran’s intensity and craftiness. He is one of those players where, especially against European youth teams, the game looks too easy for him. At the same time, he’s got a long way to go defensively and as a shooter. He is talented, but probably not talented enough to be a primary ball handler for an NBA team, so he is going to have to learn to play without the ball. Still, shooting can be taught, but a great first step is much harder to add.
30. Jonathan Jeanne C, Le Mans Sarthe ’97 – I was low on Jeanne a few weeks back upon seeing some footage from earlier in his career. He was absolutely horrible, constantly making bad decisions on both ends. He only started to look like a different player at the FIBA U18 in 2015. Some of that “improvement” could probably be attributed to the Frank Ntilikina effect. After all, there is a reason why Ntilikina is considered one of the better passers in this draft and he and Jeanne seemed to develop some especially effective chemistry as pick-n-roll partners. On the surface it seemed like a lot off Jeanne’s success could mostly be attributed to Ntilikina’s passing ability. While that may still be true to an extent, it’s not the whole story. Not only did Jeanne play much better on offense, he was a different player defensively. It’s not like Nitilikna could really make Jeanne look better on that end. Jeanne constantly put himself out of position chasing blocks and had some embarrassing mental lapses in previous game action. However, in the U18 tournament, he was a lot more focused and in tune on both ends. Thanks to improved positioning, he was actually increasing his block rate, even if he wasn’t chasing them as much. He still gambled but his size, standing reach, and mobility are out of this world. He’s so skinny that it looks like his legs might snap while he is running up the court, but he does a nice job finishing around the basket and even grabbing contested boards. He also has a solid stroke and doesn’t mind pulling up for threes. Even if he never becomes a great three-point shooter, just shooting them with confidence will help unlock a lot of his potential. He is certainly a huge wild card, health is always a concern for someone at his size and he might never become much more than a third string center, but his ceiling is exactly the type of defensively dominant center prospect that is most practical in the NBA nowadays.
29. Kostja Mushidi SG, Mega Vizura ’98 – Mushidi has a lot of issues to work out before he is a legit top prospect. At this point he has a tendency to disappear and become overly passive. The length and court vision is there and he has the off court resources necessary to succeed. Which, by the way, brings me to the question about his affiliation with one of the most powerful agencies in Europe and how that may influence him being overrated in some instances. Not to imply that the agents are buying off draft media. It’s something much less sinister, where the agent has probably brought players to the draft media member’s attention in the past and has a reliable record projecting young prospects. Since Mushidi is also backed by this agent and the agent seems to believe so strongly into Mushidi, it convinces the media member(s) to rate Mushidi higher. It’s actually not always a bad thing to think this way. I take into account the opinion of draft experts like Joshua Riddell, Mike Schmitz, Aran Smith and Kaiser Lindeman. These guys have proven to be knowledgeable and precise with their evaluations, so their opinion certainly influences mine. The top agents competing for NBA prospects also know how to evaluate talent and if you are able to weed through their self-serving ways, their opinion should certainly hold some weight. However, if my eyes and the stats both disagree with someone else’s opinion, of course I’m going to stick with my own outlook. All of this is not to destroy Kostja, he seems like a nice kid and he is one of the youngest guys in this entire draft with a chance to become a very good player. This was just something that was worth pointing out and important to keep in mind, not just regarding Mushidi, but all draft prospects. Agency affiliation plays a part in prospect evaluation, both amongst draft media and NBA teams. I also acknowledge that I may be wrong about this particular case and that I’m just missing something about Mushidi. I only used him as an example for this scenario because he has a powerful agency behind him, while also being overrated on some of the other big boards.
28. Tyler Lydon PF, Syracuse ’96 – Syracuse has several players that may get drafted. I already mentioned Tyus Battle but seniors Andrew White, Tyler Roberson and DaJuan Coleman all have a shot at the second round. Pascal Chukwu and Franklin Howard are long shots but also have talent. So, the Orange will be dangerous either way but just how good they are will have a lot to do with Lydon’s development. In some ways, he is the type of player NBA teams dream of: 6’10, mobile, protects the rim, can shoot the ball. He is almost a poor man’s Serge Ibaka. At the same time, even though he doesn’t seem to have any clear weaknesses, he also isn’t likely to ever be a star, let alone a superstar. So, instead of trying to prove that he can score in the post or off the dribble, it’d be great if he continued to work on expanding his range and getting stronger and tougher in the paint defensively. Lydon got pushed around a bit last season and he needs to show that he isn’t soft. It’s always tough to judge individual defense within the Syracuse zone and just how well a certain player will translate to the next level. Lydon seemed solid as the last line of defense but if he can stand out as a rim protector and all around deterrent even more, he’d give his draft stock a nice boost.
27. Bam Adebayo C, Kentucky ’97 – Lack of skill keeps Adebayo a notch below some of the top freshmen. For the millionth time, no one needs centers. Rim protectors and versatile defenders are still valued, but despite all his athletic ability and an unbelievable frame, Adebayo is at times a bit disappointing on the defensive end. The potential is there and he looked like the best player at Kentucky’s Pro Day, at least as far as I could tell from ESPN’s terrible coverage. He has the NBA body and athletic ability for sure. Measuring out at 6’10 in shoes was also good for a true big man who was listed at 6’8 during his high school career. If he is able to consistently make midrange shots throughout the season and his overall skillset shows improvement, he could really rise on this list. At the moment, it’s just tough to rank him much higher as another athletic but raw pure center. There are simply too many of these guys in the league and most teams don’t need another such player.
26. Donovan Mitchell SG, Louisville ’96 – Not just another explosive athlete, Mitchell separates himself with his outstanding feel and basketball IQ. He is a bit undersized for the two guard, let alone the three, which is the position that probably best suits him, but he makes up for it with long arms and out of this world bounce. He is still rounding out his game, especially as a shooter, but the guy is a natural basketball player who makes beautiful passes, cuts at the right time, drives at the right angles, and always seems to be around the ball. Despite inconsistent playing time and productivity as a freshman, it’s hard for me to not see him in the NBA eventually.