With the NBA Draft Combine a distant memory, team workouts and pro days in full swing and the season complete, it's time for an updated set of prospect rankings. After all, the NBA Draft is now less than two weeks away.
Despite a full season of scouting and data accumulation, all of the above pre-draft events are continuing to shape what NBA teams and draftniks around the web think of this year's crop of prospects as shooting forms, ball-handling skills and so on are tweaked by offseason development programs.
One of the beneficiaries of the combine - and seemingly a postseason retrospective of, "oh, hey, he was pretty good this year!" - was Maryland forward Kevin Huerter. The 6-7 wing's performance over the course of the season and his pre-draft development warrants a big leap. Huerter is No. 19 in our new rankings.
The 19-year-old was a career 39.4 percent 3-point shooter on 350 attempts for the Terrapins, a huge positive indicator for a league that demands outside shooting. He shot it well from NBA distance at a standstill during the combine, but it's his potential shot diversity that's most intriguing.
Just 20 Division I players finished more possessions last season coming off a screen than Huerter. Although he may not be a high-level on-ball creator at the next level, his ability to generate offense away from it both for himself (as a shooter or cutter) and his teammates (as a gravitational pull on the defense) could prove valuable. He also ranked in the 82nd percentile nationally as a pull-up shooter, per Synergy, suggesting an ability to attack closeouts with one or two dribbles before launching from the midrange.
On the other side of the floor, Huerter's defense faces significant question marks. He has an unexciting 6-8 wingspan, a thin 194-pound frame and posted average steal and block numbers as a sophomore. While he's a plus-IQ player, he'll need to add strength and physicality to be a stronger individual defender.
Given most NBA teams are still searching for quality wings to fill out their ranks, the Maryland sophomore's success as a shooter will justify a likely first-round selection on draft night despite the defensive concerns.
The playoffs should also be shaping the way NBA teams think about their draft boards. Two ideas, in particular, stand out.
The first is that betting on young, athletic guards with positive IQ and feel indicators is worthwhile. It's probably the most likely path to finding the NBA's next Donovan Mitchell (if there is one). The second is that it's necessary in the modern NBA for big men to be able to defend on the perimeter. If they can't move their feet, they may have trouble staying on the floor in the playoffs. Both of these principles are reflected in the lottery section of the below board.
Texas Tech's Zhaire Smith is a beneficiary of the first idea, as he moved up No. 8 on this board. Here's the quick elevator pitch for him as an NBA prospect.
The 19-year-old averaged 5.0 rebounds, 1.1 blocks and 1.1 steals per game last season. Only 107 freshmen (min. 20 games played) have hit those benchmarks in the last 25 years. Just 10 of them were 6-5 or shorter. Of that subset, four played high major college basketball: longtime overseas pro Charles O'Bannon, future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade, last year's No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz and Smith.
Prior research from Layne Vashro, a current analyst for the Nuggets, suggests certain statistical areas (namely rebounding, steals and blocks) are things prospects are unlikely to suddenly get better at in the NBA, so prospects who are good at those things theoretically should have more upside as they're more likely to improve at their other skills than high-scoring prospects are to get better at rebounding, stealing and blocking.
A quick comparison of Smith's freshman season stats per 40 minutes with Mitchell's should explain why there's reason to be interested:
Mitchell attempted 3s at a higher rate than Smith and also had more on-ball creation opportunities, but the player fans saw on the floor for the Jazz this season came a long way in two years. Smith may need a longer runway, but history suggests there's value in betting on high IQ players with a good feel for the game and explosive athleticism.
Not many 6-4 guys can do this:
The playoffs are also suggestive about the types of prospects NBA teams should be skeptical of. In the past, non-shooters have been frozen out of playoff games, for example. This year, the lessons came in the frontcourt as traditionally excellent big men like Rudy Gobert and Clint Capela struggled to keep up defensively on the perimeter.
That's why this board is less high on players like Mohamed Bamba (No. 11) and Wendell Carter Jr. (No. 12). Although both players possess potentially elite skill sets - for Bamba, rim protection and for Carter, offensive versatility - they are each questionable perimeter defenders in switching situations.
Bamba's length can make up for getting beat on occasion, which is why he rates out higher here. Carter, on the other hand, struggled so much in ball screen situations (as did his teammates) as a freshman that Duke switched to a zone defense midway through the season.
Since both players possess useful skill sets in other areas, there's a reasonable chance the below projections could be proven wrong, but the direction of the modern NBA suggests a need for big men who are more comfortable defending on the the perimeter and a preference for guards over bigs offensively, hence a lower than expected rating for the two of them.
Finally, here's a look at our top 60 prospects in the upcoming NBA Draft.
NOTE: The below is not a reflection of where these prospects are expected to be drafted.
|1.||Luka Doncic||Real Madrid||SG/SF||6-7||218||19.3|
|2.||Jaren Jackson Jr.||Michigan State||PF/C||6-11||236||18.7|
|3.||Marvin Bagley III||Duke||PF/C||6-11||234||19.2|
|6.||Michael Porter Jr.||Missouri||SF/PF||6-11||211||20.0|
|7.||Miles Bridges||Michigan State||SF/PF||6-7||220||20.2|
|8.||Zhaire Smith||Texas Tech||SG||6-4||199||19.0|
|12.||Wendell Carter Jr.||Duke||C||6-10||251||19.2|
|15.||Robert Williams III||Texas A&M||C||6-10||240||20.7|
|18.||Lonnie Walker IV||Miami||SG||6-5||196||19.5|
|22.||Josh Okogie||Georgia Tech||SG/SF||6-4||213||19.8|
|24.||Keita Bates-Diop||Ohio State||SF/PF||6-7||235||22.4|
|26.||Chandler Hutchison||Boise State||SF||6-7||197||22.1|
|28.||Jerome Robinson||Boston College||PG||6-5||191||21.3|
|30.||Anfernee Simons||IMG Academy||PG/SG||6-4||180||19.0|
|32.||Bruce Brown Jr.||Miami||PG/SG||6-5||190||21.8|
|34.||Landry Shamet||Wichita State||PG/SG||6-4||180||21.3|
|39.||Jevon Carter||West Virginia||PG||6-2||205||22.7|
|40.||Gary Trent Jr.||Duke||SG||6-6||204||19.4|
|41.||Kevin Hervey||UT Arlington||SF||6-7||230||22.0|
|56.||Tony Carr||Penn State||PG||6-5||204||20.7|
|59.||Alize Johnson||Missouri State||PF||6-8||217||22.1|
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.