How Jayson Tatum Has Grown As A Passer

By Matt Esposito

Coming into the 2019–20 season, many wanted eternal 19-year-old Jayson Tatum to switch up his offensive approach. They called for him to become more aggressive and attack the rim, which is odd because Boston fans are known for their politeness and deference to authority—typically they just sit around parlor looking for the clicker to watch Cheers reruns.

Well, in between shouts of “Norm!” and regionalized commercials for Sip ‘N Dip, Tatum decided to heed the advice of the locals. By now, the few readers who haven’t been turned off by my parochial New England references are wondering when I start talking about Tatum’s passing. I’m sure a dozen more just x’d out of this tab after reading the word parochial. That’s fine. They don’t get to see the positive trend in both Tatum’s assist- and assist-to-usage percentages.

Thanks, Cleaning The Glass

The bottom row is Tatum’s most recent season, the top row his rookie year. Although Tatum’s assist-to-usage percentage is still below his positional average, the first-time All-Star increased the effectiveness of his passes. In other words, his passes are directly leading to more points. Plus, assist-to-usage ratio can reveal the willingness of players to set up teammates. Tatum shifted into a lead-scoring/shot-creator role this year, so a relatively low number is somewhat acceptable, if not expected.

Before you sink your teeth into the film, check out how some more stats indicate Tatum’s growth as a facilitator. During the regular season he averaged 5.5 potential assists per game. This number ballooned to 9.8 in the playoffs. What’s more, Tatum averaged 3.0 assists per game during the regular season but hiked that up to 5.0 in the postseason. Wait, you want more data? Only ten times did Tatum post five or more assists in the regular season. He fell one outing shy of matching that mark in this year’s playoffs.

Boston’s burgeoning superstar developed as a playmaker by taking advantage of his hoops IQ. Quick to realize in-game patterns, Tatum maximized his gravity to create for teammates. His real-time adjustment to capitalize on Duncan Robinson’s subpar defense in the Eastern Conference Finals is a wonderful example.

Tatum also found success when initiating early offense. Many stars are hesitant to surrender the ball, but that has hardly been the case with Tatum. In the play above/below, he wisely gives it up during transition and lets Boston’s athletes do the rest. When he does keep the rock, however, Tatum has learned to cash out on the extra attention he draws from help defenders. Crosscourt whip-passes to wide-open teammates have become a common occurrence.

My unsolicited prediction? There is a great chance Jayson Tatum leads the Celtics in assists next year. You may think that Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart are all too capable of passers for Tatum to surpass (pun intended.) Perhaps you’re right. Just don’t be surprised when Tatum averages over five dimes per game next year and becomes a legit playmaker.

*Update – With the news of Kemba Walker’s knee rehab and expected return date, look for Brad Stevens to lean even more on Tatum’s playmaking. Additionally, any folks who are looking into how Jeff Teague can replace some of Walker’s minutes, look no further.

Is OG Anunoby The Best Prospect On The Raptors?

By Matt Esposito

Pascal who? Oh, you mean that Siakam fella? He’s good and all, but OG Anunoby is the better long-term prospect. Think this is a hot take? Let it cool for a moment. And while you do, think back to watching last season’s postseason matchup between Boston and Toronto. Who stood out to you? Who faded into the background?

Sure, the criticism hurled at Siakam was a bit too harsh. After all, the former Most Improved Player Award winner just made his first All-NBA Team while averaging just shy of 23 points per game. Still, Siakam failed to show he could make a meaningful impact when tasked with creating his own offense against an elite defender. 

Anunoby, however, demonstrated that his ceiling stretches a bit higher than his teammate’s. OG routinely clamped Boston’s ball-handlers while also showing flashes of an expanded offensive game. (Also, there’s a game-winning shot I’m still trying to forget—so much so that I didn’t hyperlink in this article.) In exchange, I’m giving Raptors (and NBA fans at large) some other highlights of OG’s rising star.

Offensive Development

Once looked at as a promising three-and-D prospect, Anunoby has proven to be more than a knockdown/lockdown player. (Before you ask, yes, I have already trademarked the phrase knockdown/lockdown, so don’t try to steal it!) But what did OG do this year to suggest he is more than a two-way specialist? Although they still aren’t anything to write home about, OG’s advanced passing metrics have started to trend the right way. According to Cleaning The Glass, Anunoby jumped from the 14th to 49th percentile in assist-to-usage ratio. His assist percentage made a similar leap, jumping from the 11th to 32nd percentile. Both numbers are below average for now, but the eye test suggests they could rise even further.

Ignore the Serge Ibaka thumbnail for what is clearly a video about OG Anunoby. I’m a writer, not a videographer. What you can’t ignore, however, is OG’s evolution as a scorer. It was only two years ago when OG was taking almost half of his shots (48 percent) from three. That number dipped to 38 percent last season as Anunoby found more ways to get to the bucket.

Perhaps it’s his linebackerish, 235-pound frame that convinced OG to learn how to score from the post. Regardless, he is no stranger to the paint. Anunoby isn’t an elite finisher there yet, but if his touch and footwork continue to develop, he will be one day. What’s more pressing is his pull-up game. As the video shows, defenders are content to go under screens and dare OG to shoot. Smart choice, given OG’s preference to either blow by or muscle through opponents. Next year, monitor the number of pull-up shots OG attempts. If that number increases, then it’s a sign that management and coaching are priming Anunoby for a bigger role.

Defensive Nightmare

For opposing ball-handlers, that is. Are you ready for my other hot take? *looks around and whispers*  OG is the best defender in the NBA. The only thing analysts love more than comparing white players to other white players is projecting someone to be able to defend positions one through five. Anunoby is one of the few players who can actually do so. His 7-foot-2 wingspan, muscular frame, and quick feet are the holy trinity of defensive measurables, and in God we trust.

I could go on and on about OG’s steal percentage, defensive rating, deflection numbers blah blah blah. Better that I just show you. Watch OG seamlessly shift onto point guards, centers and everyone in between. You can smell the panic emanating from ball-handlers when OG sets his sights on them. Feast away, basketball fans!

While you watched that video, I decided to put a grandma-knitted, itchy-around-the-neck sweater on, because by now my hot take is chilly, and surely the interwebs now agree that OG is the game’s best defender. No need to catch a cold, am I right? It’s only a matter of time until OG is doing more than collecting simple All-Defensive Team hardware. Soon enough, he will be pushing for the Defensive Player of the Year Award, and eventually he’ll snatch it away from the big men who have dominated the field in recent years.

Recap

Can we expect a Siakam-like leap from OG next year? I think so. The path for Anunoby to obtain stardom is presenting itself. He is flirting with new ways to score the ball and doesn’t look too bad when doing so. But is he more promising than Siakam?

Siakam is entering his age-26 season, and typically players his age tend to be rounding out their game, not drastically expanding it. Color me skeptical of Pascal’s potential to become an off-the-bounce shooter. Plus, his shooting numbers dropped significantly when he’s burdened with more offensive responsibility.

Shoutout B-Ball Reference

On the other side, OG is three years younger than Siakam and has played 2,297 fewer regular season minutes. Call it intuition, call it senseless fandom, but something about OG’s development simply seems different than Siakam’s. While Pascal surely underwent a meteoric ascent into stardom, Anunoby could have the higher ceiling. They’re both terrific players, but I’m gambling on the real OG.

BONUS – Zach and I returned to discuss Eastern Conference Free Agency. I said that Aron Baynes may lowkey be a better player for Toronto than Serge Ibaka. Check it out. Or, just watch me totally nail this Baynes-to-Toronto prediction in his free agency breakdown.

What Will Jeff Teague Bring To Boston?

By Matt Esposito

That’s “Former one-time All-Star” Jeff Teague, to you. Okay, Teague isn’t the player he once was when suiting up for those great Atlanta Hawks teams. You know, the team that was led by Mike Budenholzer and rostered dudes like Kyle Korver, Al Horford, Paul Millsap and even a young Dennis Schröder. In fact, Teague probably was never truly an All-Star talent if we’re being honest.

Yet, he is a pro’s pro. A fundamentally sound point guard with savvy passing skills and some defensive tricks up his sleeve. And while he isn’t the blur he once was, Teague still has a good amount of juice to be squeezed from his 32-year-old legs. Boston’s goal of upgrading their backup point guard position has been successfully filled. Teague is still a back-end starter in the league and should do well in a more limited role.

In particular, what duties will Brad Stevens ask of Teague? Last season, the Celtics found themselves lacking a second-unit guard to generate easy offense for the bench. Considering these rotations could include youngsters like Romeo Langford, Aaron Nesmith (sneaky starter candidate, by the way), Grant Williams and Timelord, an initiator is much needed. Fortunately, Teague excels at playing teammates open.

Teague has always had a knack for drawing defenders into a help position and therefore, away from their original assignment. His vision takes care of the rest, often resulting in clever passes to suddenly open men. We can trust that Stevens will implement second-unit sets that should lead to good looks for the young guns. The success of these plays, however, counts on a veteran point guard to execute them. Teague will do just that.

He’ll also be able to create for himself when the occasion calls for it. Relying on Teague to nail stepback triples will lead to disappointment (we’ve been spoiled by Kemba) but he still has the speed to blow by defenders. Reading through old scouting reports on him show that Teague was and still is known for his quickness with the ball. If Grant Williams continues his streak of improved perimeter shooting, then second-units consisting of Nesmith, Smart, and insert-big-here can run a lethal high pick-and-roll.

The second half of that video displayed Teague’s shiftiness. He won’t end up on too many highlight reals yet, Teague has mastered the art of hesitation. Sensing that opponents are constantly expecting a speedy drive, Teague throws them off-balance by decelerating before the blow by. It isn’t always flashy, but his change of pace moves, such as the hang or inside-out dribble, are still effective.

There is one area where fans and coaches alike seem to grow frustrated with Teague, however. My man loves to turn down open shots, to the point where it may actually be harmful to the squad. Sometimes he does it in hopes that an even more open look can be created. Other times he becomes too pass happy. This is something to monitor, although I predict Teague’s role in Boston will ask for him be more of a distributor than a scorer.

With both Atlanta and Minnesota (for time-saving measures now referred to collectively as the Timberhawks)Teague played the role of a combo guard. As a Timberhawk he often shared the floor next to other court generals like Shabazz Napier and Trae Young. In fact, Cleaning the Glass informs that Teague spent 36 percent of his minutes at the two-guard spot. Defensively, these lineups struggled, which is to be expected when your backcourt has two sub 6-foot-3 guards, including one who is notorious for poor defense. Offensively, however, Teague had a points per possession and effective field goal percentage all above the 60th percentile. Not bad.

Given the Cs preference to close with Smart on the floor next to the Js, Kemba and insert-big-here, don’t expect Teague to share much time with Walker. He’s likely to be paired next to Smart more frequently. Regardless, expect him to return to his traditional point guard role. We can trust that Danny Ainge signed Teague to do what he’s best at.

Defensively, Teague is still a plus player when he wants to be. There are other times he leaves fans wanting more, especially when they grow used to his agility and fluidity. The tea leaves point towards Teague being a passable player on D this year, however. He’ll see near a career low in minutes (under 24) which will allow him to exert more effort. Plus, he has stated his desire to win; a notion that makes sense given where he is in his career.

Celtics fans should prepare for some sneaky, shark-like steals. Teague loves to bait ball-handlers into precarious situations. His feigned retreats convince dribblers that they have room to attack. Once drawn in, Teague darts into their airspace for the swipe. Not only are they fun to watch, these robberies remind us of how intelligent of a player Teague can be.

Okay, want to see me look foolish? I’ll make a totally unsolicited, unnecessary prediction for Teague’s 2020-21 statline. He should land somewhere around 8.0 points per game and 4.0 assists while shooting 42 percent from the field and 34-36 percent from deep. He’ll do this while playing near 20 minutes per game (less minutes for Kemba = good!) and hardly turning the ball over.

BONUS! You may enjoy this breakdown on Tristan Thompson and the skill set he’ll bring to Boston.

What Will Tristan Thompson Bring To Boston?

By Matt Esposito

Kim Kardashian. Boston now has the gaze of Kim Kardashian. That’s the answer to this article’s question. No need to write any further. Celtics fan are used to having a member of the Kardashian family tree in town and yes, that is a throwback reference to Kris Humphries.

Enough Tom Foolery, time for business. Danny “casuals want me fired” Ainge lured Tristan Thompson to Boston with a two year, $19 million deal that comes via the MLE. It may be wise to assume Ainge promised Thompson a staring role; a notion that is leaving some fans scratching their noggins. Daniel Theis performed well last season and is a starting level player by any means.

My gut, however, tells me it’s time for a pre-dinner snack and that Thompson will start. While Theis has a reliable, albeit limited skill set and obvious chemistry among teammates, Thompson offers better defensive size, rebounding and roll gravity.

All you need is quick glance at Thompson to imagine his stout frame stopping bigs from doing damage in the paint. The tape backs this up. In the clips below, Thompson plays exceptional defense on the weighty Nikola Jokic while also going toe to toe with the powerful Julius Randle.

Although Boston has had some success defending Joel Embiid, some question if the 6-foot-8 Theis has enough bulk to defend Philly’s behemoth. Thompson certainly does. Plus, his defensive IQ and timing is sharp as ever. While you don’t want Thompson consistently being dragged onto the perimeter, he can still hold his own once there. The angles he uses forces guards into help defense and his length often disrupts drivers. Celtics fans will enjoy his know-how for the next couple of years.

Offensively, Thompson plays a similar style to Theis. Both big men are strong screeners who keep the ball moving but fail to reliably stretch the floor. Theis is the more promising shooter, by far, but his growth as a perimeter spacer has stalled. Where do I like Thompson more than Theis? Despite entering his age 30 season, I think Thompson has just a tad more roll gravity than Theis. In addition to worrying about his dunkability on lobs, defenders need to stay tight to TT because of his rebounding prowess.

Cleaning the Glass hooked it up with his rebounding percentiles. His career offensive rebounding skills in a word: elite.

To the Celtics fans who enjoyed a year of Ene Kanter’s board-snatching, fret not. Thompson will replace that skill and more. His passing has developed throughout the years to the point where he can do more than complete a dribble handoff. These last two seasons were the first time in Thompson’s career he had ever posted an assist to usage rate above the 50th percentile. The film displays one-handed transition dimes, some creation off the dribble and big-to-big precision.

Still, Thompson does nothing to stretch the floor. Earlier this offseason I detailed how he isn’t a perimeter shooter despite getting a little freaky with his attempts from behind the arc. If Theis were to continue as the starter, it would be a sign that Stevens likes the potential for him to space the floor. After all, Theis did have a 45 game stretch last season where he took just shy of two triples per game and sank 36.3 percent of them. This number plummeted to 15.4 percent in the postseason but the potential exists nevertheless.

Need an easier way to wrap your brain around this? If Daniel Theis sacrificed his three-point shooting for some added strength/length, you’d get Tristan Thompson. Hoop heads may argue that their differences are more nuanced, but it’s a good starting point. So for now, it may be wise to pencil in Thompson as the starter, but keep your eraser handy!

BONUS – Take trip to The Playgrounder’s YouTube channel. We’ve got free agency breakdowns as well as nifty analysis on how draftee Aaron Nesmith will fit into Stevens offense AND some film on Jayson Tatum’s growth as a playmaker. Subscribe, thanks!

Aaron Nesmith Breakdown

Jayson Tatum’s Growth as a Passer

Analyzing the Chicago Bulls’ Draft

Featured Image From the Associated Press

By Andrew Lawlor

This was the first draft in Chicago for the Bulls’ new front office regime of Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley, and nobody really knew what they were going to do. There were rumors all over the place; I saw that they were looking to trade up for LaMelo Ball or James Wiseman, trade down, or take Deni Avdija at four. But after the top three in the draft went chalk, and the rumors of a trade up or down did not come to fruition, the Bulls went with Florida State freshman Patrick Williams.

Round 1, Pick 4 – Patrick Williams

This pick was a little bit of a reach by consensus; Williams was consistently getting mocked later in the top ten. But the pick does make sense; Williams was the youngest American in the draft at just 19 years old, and he has great size at 6-foot-8, 225 pounds with a 6-foot-11 wingspan and tree trunks for legs.

Thanks to his excellent physical tools, Williams is strongest on defense. He particularly excels at rim-protection, a rare skill among wings, having posted a 5.6 block percentage in a bench role at Florida State. But he does not just block shots; Williams has mastered the concept of verticality, so he can alter shots even when he does not block them. And with his immense strength, offensive players cannot go through him to score. He is at his best in the paint, but Williams also can read the game well and had a 2.5 steal percentage this season because of his knack for jumping passing lanes.

As I wrote a couple months ago, Williams can be a potential three-and-D guy, due to his good shot-making ability. He has the confidence to take threes and tough pull-up jumpers, and while the percentages from the floor are not great, he shot very well from the free throw line in college, which is often a better predictor of shooting success in the NBA. I project him to be around average from the three-point line in the NBA, with the potential to be even better.

Williams is also a promising passer; he makes good reads and managed an 8.4 assist percentage at Florida State. He did turn the ball over a lot (17.1 turnover percentage), but this is not the end of the world. High turnovers often reflect a player who is willing to take chances, and this is often better than someone who is afraid of making mistakes. 

For all his strengths, Williams is not a perfect prospect. He somewhat lacks lateral quickness, which affects him both on offense and defense. On defense, he struggles to stay in front of people on the perimeter and he’s prone to getting dusted by guards (and not even particularly athletic ones). I asked PD Web, a draft writer who can be found on Patreon, where his work is free, or Twitter at @abovethebreak3, and he said “The most important thing on defense is Pat guarding fours for his rookie year, as he is still developing the movement skills to switch onto mobile wings.”

This complicates Bulls’ lineups with Lauri Markkanen, who is also a four. “I think that Markkanen may be on the way out unless he can reclaim his shooting pedigree. If Lauri can really shoot, there are some lineups with Pat at the five defensively that are possible,” says PD Web.

On offense, Williams’ lack of quickness is compounded by a weak handle; he often struggles to beat people off the dribble. He can take defenders off closeouts, but he struggles against set defenders. Because of this, Williams is probably not going to ever be the Bulls’ primary option on offense. But PD Web points specifically to using Williams as the roll man in a pick-and-roll with Zach LaVine, or handling in a pick-and-roll with Wendell Carter Jr. as areas where he can thrive.

Williams is very young, has great size, and comes into the league with lots of skills. He may not score enough to be a star, but he should be a productive player for the Bulls for years to come. This was a good pick. Here is a good video of him for more scouting information:

Also, PD Web wrote this breakdown of Williams, which is awesome.

Round 2, Pick 44 – Marko Simonovic

After taking Williams in the first round, the Bulls added Marko Simonovic, a 21-year old from Montenegro (from the same professional team as Nikola Jokic) who will probably be a draft-and-stash. I don’t really know a lot about him (and when you Google him, you get a different guy, a 34-year-old Serbian basketball player), but according to Sam Vecenie’s draft guide, he’s a 7-footer who moves well, plays with high effort, and is willing to shoot threes (though he only makes 31 percent of them). On the down side, he struggles with defense and is a terrible passer, again according to Vecenie. Still, that sounds like a good player to take a shot on to me.

Undrafted – Devon Dotson

But the Bulls weren’t done! They added Kansas guard (and Chicago native) Devon Dotson as an undrafted free agent. Dotson is the kind of player I love taking a flyer on; he was immensely productive in college for a high-major program, averaging 18.1 points, 4.0 assists, and 4.1 rebounds per game last season while making the All-American second team. He is fast, having clocked the second-fastest three-quarter court sprint time at the NBA Draft Combine in the last decade (behind only Donovan Mitchell).

Dotson struggled from three during his final season in college (30.9 percent), but was good from the free throw line (83.0 percent), so I project him to be an average NBA three-point shooter. His passing was also only okay in college, but he got better in his sophomore season and could continue to develop. He will probably struggle on defense since he is small (6-foot-2, 6-foot-3 wingspan, 185 pounds). He was getting mocked in the early-second round in a lot of places, so he represents great value as an undrafted free agent.

Film School – How Brad Stevens Will Use Aaron Nesmith

By Matt Esposito

Yes, this is the type of rapid, next-day-after response that makes it tolerable when I hyperlink my twitter handle where my name is. Did I do tons of research prior to this draft? Lol. But coffee exists and so does a desire to figure out how the latest Danny Ainge draft pick will fit into Boston’s offense. I’ll even make you a deal: you can scroll right past the words and right to the YouTube video if you consider subscribing.

Arguably the best shooter in his draft class, Nesmith will join the professional ranks with the ideal height (6-foot-6) and footwork to become an off-ball threat. Just how much of a threat? My dude made 119 out of 290 three-pointers at Vanderbilt and was hitting 52.2 percent of his triples before a foot injury prematurely ended his college career.

More good news: Nesmith finished in the 95th percentile for on spot-up shots and the 97th percentile when coming off screens, according to NBA.com. Some not so good news: You don’t need to watch the Celtics for too long to know that they don’t frequently run creative sets to free up floor spacers. Yet, this is likely due to Stevens’ personnel. Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and others are not known for their off-ball footwork. Neither of them play a style similar to Duncan Robinson or JJ Redick.

Nesmith does, however. Former NBA star Jerry Stackhouse is the team’s head coach and has implemented a pro-style offense. The team runs tons of hammer, floppy, elevator and pin down sets. Nesmith benefited mightily from them and this should translate immediately to the League. In an odd twist, however, he could prepare for his assignment in Boston by studying -gulp- Carsen Edwards.

Stevens struggled to find the best way to deploy Edwards last year. So, he tried to get the rookie going by running him through a variety of screens on his way to hoisting a jumper. Kemba did more of the same although to a lesser extent and smart money would bet that Walker spends more time off ball this year too. Regardless, Nesmith is primed for this role.

The rookie will bring an entirely new dimension to the Celtics. Nesmith won’t be as good as the aforementioned Robinson, but he still can be used in a similar way. The attention drawn to Nesmith on weak-side action will give strong-side playmakers like Jayson Tatum and Walker even more room to operate. Stevens will likely scour some of Nesmith’s college tape or place a phone call to Stackhouse. If we see more elevator screens, hammer action in the corner or Spain pick-and-rolls, you’ll know Brad did his due diligence. Skip to the 1:55 mark of this video to see for yourself.

Winners and Losers of the NBA Draft

Featured Image By Nathaniel S. Butler / NBAE via Getty Images

By Andrew Lawlor

Winner – Oklahoma City Thunder

Sam Presti is a shark on the trade market. In the past couple days he has traded:

  • Chris Paul and Abdel Nader to the Suns for Kelly Oubre Jr., Ricky Rubio, Ty Jerome, Jalen Lecque, and a 2022 first-rounder
  • Dennis Schroder to the Lakers for the 28th pick and Danny Green, who was promptly rerouted to the 76ers for the 21st pick, Al Horford, and a 2025 first-rounder
  • Rubio to the Timberwolves, along with the 25th and 28th picks, for the 17th pick

With draft night finally over, they’ve supplemented their rebuild with 17(!!!!) future first-rounders between now and 2026, a potential unicorn in Aleksej Pokusevski, and two European prospects in Theo Maledon and Vit Krejci. On top of that, Horford could be a good piece for the Thunder; he was good two seasons ago in Boston and looked bad with a roster where he did not fit in Philadelphia. Don’t be surprised if Presti is able to get assets for Horford at draft-time next year. Admittedly, we sometimes overvalue future picks in NBA internet communities, but it looks like Presti nailed it. Now we’ll see if he does something other than take a million wings who can’t shoot with all those picks.

Winner – Draft Party Settings

Without the opportunity to gather in person this year, we got to see players live from their homes. Speaking of Pokusevski, he got the squad to turn out (and turn up!) at 4:45 AM for his draft party. As the clock on the wall says, Live, Laugh, Love!

And Bruce Pearl was interviewed on Isaac Okoro’s selection from…a parking lot?

Loser – Phoenix Suns

The Suns had the 10th pick, giving them a great opportunity to add a contributor to their core, and they reached on Jalen Smith. He’s got some skills, but he was consistently getting mocked to picks far lower, and does not look like good value for a top-10 pick. This is especially true when the board still included good wings like Saddiq Bey, Devin Vassell, and Aaron Nesmith and guards Kira Lewis Jr. and Tyrese Haliburton. Adding Chris Paul was a big win, but Phoenix missed an opportunity in the draft. With the team about to get a lot better, they may not get another chance like this for a while.

Winner – Philadelphia 76ers

The flip side of that Green-Horford trade makes a lot of sense to me as well. Horford never fit in Philadelphia, and now they get to clear up cap room while picking up a solid three-and-D (if the three part of that comes back, anyway) wing in Danny Green, the exact kind of player they were missing. Plus, they later switched out Josh Richardson for Seth Curry, one of the best shooters in the league, in another win-win deal. Then, with their remaining picks, they took advantage of Tyrese Maxey’s fall in the first round, and added a knockdown shooter in Isaiah Joe and a tenacious defender in Paul Reed in the second round. Now, they have a much better-fitting roster around Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Daryl Morey is coming out of the gates hot in Philadelphia.

Loser – Houston Rockets

Meanwhile, in Morey’s old stomping grounds, the Rockets are in trouble. They traded Robert Covington for Trevor Ariza and two picks, then shipped one of those picks with Ariza to Detroit for a protected pick that won’t convey for a couple of years. Covington is a good player, and it seems like their goal in these trades was mostly to dump salary; Tilman Fertitta has been loath to pay the luxury tax in his two years as owner, even when the Rockets were a real contender. Daryl Morey is already working his magic in Philadelphia, and James Harden and Russell Westbrook want out, and it seems like Fertitta (or, if you ask Kendrick Perkins, Fertito) is the cause for a lot of it. It is a tough time to be a Rockets fan.

Winner – Charlotte Hornets

If you take my favorite prospect in the draft, you are a winner in my book. LaMelo is polarizing, sure, but he is an incredible passer, the kind that does not come around very often. He is also a more aggressive scorer than his brother, with better size too. The hardest thing to find is a guy who can run an offense, and LaMelo can be that for Charlotte. They took advantage of his small slide and got him at three. Hopefully LaVar doesn’t challenge Michael Jordan to a one-on-one game again.

Loser – Utah Jazz

It may not get much attention since these were lower-profile moves, but Utah really struck out here. First they traded down from the 23rd pick, picking up the 27th and 38th picks from the Knicks. The Knicks promptly turned around and traded that same exact pick to Minnesota for the 25th and 33rd picks; it is not a good sign when you are getting fleeced by the Knicks. On top of that, Utah sent one of those picks (38th) out to dump Tony Bradley, their first-round pick from two years ago, and reached for Udoka Azubuike in the first-round. Not great! At least I like Elijah Hughes in the second round.

Winner – Detroit Pistons

Killian Hayes was a great pick, and especially for a team that is about to enter a rebuild. They can hand him the keys to the offense and let him make mistakes this year without worrying so much about wins and losses. Hayes was Kevin O’Connor’s top prospect, and can become a visionary playmaker (this is my type for prospects, see LaMelo Ball above). I also liked the Saddiq Bey pick later in the night, and while I didn’t love the value for Isaiah Stewart at 16, it was smart for them to trade for picks later in the draft. This roster was not going anywhere, and now they can rebuild.

Loser – Boston Celtics

Sorry, Matt. The Celtics entered the draft with picks 14, 26 and 30, and everyone in the world knew they were trying to trade up. But Danny Ainge was not able to make it work. Perhaps it’ll get leaked down the road that they offered all three for a chance at (insert player from the top ten who turns out to be a star). Instead, the Celtics came out of this draft with a shooter with questions around his defense (Aaron Nesmith), a backup guard who lacks upside (Payton Pritchard), a draft-and-stash guy in the second round (Yam Madar), and two more future picks for Ainge to almost trade for a star player.

Loser – Vanderbilt Commodores

When the Celtics selected Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt’s men’s basketball program tweeted this graphic:

This might lead you to think they’ve been good over the last couple years. Nope! They only have one more SEC win (3) than lottery picks (2) over the last two seasons. Yikes!

Winner – Dallas Mavericks

Dallas got a great wing defender in Josh Green and a sharpshooting point guard in Tyrell Terry, two perfect fits. They also got Josh Richardson from Philadelphia, who provides yet another defender they sorely need. They will miss Seth Curry’s shooting, but Richardson is a better all-around player, and Terry can replace some of Curry’s production. These moves should help them move up the standings in the Western Conference.

Winner – Memphis Grizzlies

Draft Twitter’s favorite team, the Grizzlies traded into the first round for sharpshooter Desmond Bane, picked up Xavier Tillman in the second round, and signed Killian Tillie as a free agent. All three players profile as contributors. For a team that came into the night with no first-rounders, this is a real coup.

Bonus Winner – This dude on Reddit who has the funniest made-up stories

“I didn’t know Dr. Doolitle was in this motherfucker” deserves a Pulitzer. Long live NBA Reddit!

NBA Draft – Instant First Round Reactions

By Zach Wilson & Matt Esposito

1. Minnesota Timberwolves – Anthony Edwards, Georgia

Matt – I’m rooting for Edwards. I’m nervous for Edwards. I’m nervous for the Timberwolves. I’m down with the Ant-Man nickname. I’m over pop culture’s obsession with cartoons. These are my thoughts.

Zach – I was wondering why the NFL went cartoon heavy this year… Guess it’s every sport? People are saying this draft reminds them of 2013, and in 2013 the number one pick was named Anthony. Hopefully Edwards’ career is a little different than the last guy.

2. Golden State Warriors – James Wiseman, Memphis

Should James Wiseman Be the #1 NBA Draft Pick? | SportsRaid
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Zach – I guess they didn’t trade the pick after all. Wiseman’s amazing, but hasn’t played a game in over a year. Could he be the one who has to guard AD in the conference finals? Only time will tell. Prayers up to Klay Thompson.

Matt – This pick was wise…man. Golden State needs Wiseman to fill a limited role as a rim runner who can learn to switch onto the perimeter. Does this mean Kevon Looney is available? (Pssst, Danny Ainge)

3. Charlotte Hornets – LaMelo Ball, Illawarra Hawks

Matt – Great, all 2020 needed was more media clips of LaVar Ball talking all that nonsense. Personally, I love LaMelo’s passing but from what we’ve read he may have the maturity of a grapefruit. Most youngin’s do, however, so I won’t knock him too much. Good pick, Michael Jordan.

Zach – I need more Lavar Ball, I was missing him. I really like Charlotte’s young core, especially when you include their likely high pick next year. Another Jordan 3-peat on the rise!

4. Chicago Bulls – Patrick Williams, Florida St.

Zach – Was not expecting this! Can’t deny the athleticism though. Chicago has so many lottery picks on their roster, hopefully they can start to do something with all of them.

Matt – Can we get Diana Taurasi on an NBA team? Did I read about a Kawhi comparison for Williams? Are we sure this is what Chicago should have done? I’m out of questions.

5. Cleveland Cavaliers – Isaac Okoro, Auburn

Matt – Now this is a good pick. Cleveland needs defense more than Trump needs a judicial Hail Mary to win the election. Yeah, I got political, do something about it Zach!

Zach – I stay away from politics as hard as Cleveland stays away from good picks. No hate against Okoro, I won’t judge a player’s potential until I see him at the NBA level. I’m just not personally as high on their current young core as other people are.

6. Atlanta Hawks – Onyeka Okongwu, USC

USC center Onyeka Okongwu declares for NBA draft – Orange County Register
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Zach – My favorite player in the draft, (you happy about my spelling of “favourite” that time?). This kid has real potential. Shout out to all the Mountain Dew bottles!

Matt -Producers at ESPN like, “Hey, your just achieved your wildest dream, tell me about losing your brother.” Don’t love the interview approach by the Worldwide Leader in Sports. I do love Onyeka though, and considering my Cs wanted him, this somewhat smells like a guy who could be on the move.

7. Detroit Pistons – Killian Hayes, France

Matt – What’s more likely, that Killian Hayes becomes the best point guard in this draft, or that he’s not even the best Killian in this draft?

Zach – I’m a big Killian Tillie fan, but I’m going to go with the first one. I don’t know much about him, but lefties are always great. Yep, that’s my analysis.

8. New York Knicks – Obi Toppin, Dayton

Zach – Ain’t no stoppin Obi Toppin, but Obi Toppin can’t do the stoppin. He really isn’t that bad of a defender, obviously a great offensive player. Still the Most Knick thing ever to draft a power forward.

Matt – I love it. New York needs culture guys and this dude just said, “After my first dunk…I knew there wasn’t going to be any more layups.” Okay maybe I paraphrased. But the Knicks need someone to run with RJ and work his tail off. Considering this fella didn’t have any D1 offers, I think we can say he has some great work ethic.

9. Washington Wizards – Deni Avdija, Maccabi Tel Aviv

Matt – The “J” is silent. Kinda the opposite of Django, right? I’ll end it here because I know Zach wants more space to show his love for Deni.

Zach – This is the perfect fit for Washington; allows him to get lots of minutes, while still not having to be the main ball handler. Ahv di uh… No idea how to do write out pronunciations, or whatever the word is for that.

10. Phoenix Suns – Jalen Smith, Maryland

Zach – Really good athlete, that’s for sure. He could play a solid role on a team that now has legit playoff hopes. Good off season so far for the Suns, maybe Booker will finally get his first taste of the post season.

Matt – Firstly, he seems like a gem of a person. Secondly, is he destined to be a small-ball five? Maryland legitimately ran him off of screens so he could be a four. Phoenix needs a plan for him and if it’s a good one, Smith could be the steal of the draft. Also…my Haliburton to Boston dreams are still alive…

11. San Antonio Spurs – Devin Vassell, Florida St.

Matt – And my Haliburton hopes stay afloat! Not gonna lie, Vassell’s shot scares me. Plus, our stat and analytics nerd Andrew Lawlor doesn’t like the projection for his three-point shot.

Zach – I don’t think I have anything negative to say about him. A guy who has a great improvement story, talks well, good player… A little good cop – bad cop, and I’m obviously the good one.

12. Sacramento Kings – Tyrese Haliburton, Iowa St.

Step Into My Office: Tyrese Haliburton - Wide Right & Natty Lite
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Zach – Great suit, great player, this is a steal, and him and Fox are going to work well together.

Matt – I feel Haliburnt right now. Don’t talk to me. Okay great suit, whatever, I’m over it.

13. New Orleans Pelicans – Kira Lewis Jr, Alabama

Matt – Know what? I’m not over the Haliburton pick. After opting for Marvin Bagley over Luka Doncic, Sacramento should be fined a pick. On to New Orleans. We love Kira. Dude’s a blur and turns out being fast is good. Good fit with transition monster Zion Williamson.

Zach – Between Kira, Lonzo, and Zion, this team is going to be monstrous in transition. Maybe he’ll start with a potential Lonzo trade in the loom, wink wink, not reporting or using my insight or anything.

14. Boston Celtics – Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt

Zach – Fantastic shooter, and that’s all I really know about him. I’ll let Matt go off about his team now.

Matt – “Okay Matt, go off.” I wanted the C’s to trade up, but alas. I like the pick. Boston needs a low touch, floor spacing sniper who can defend a couple positions. Nesmith may be the best shooter in the class. Let it marinate, Boston fans. This could be a less outspoken Buddy Hield.

Matt – I’m old and need to be up by 6:00 AM tomorrow. Zach has it from here folks!

15. Orlando Magic – Cole Anthony, UNC

Scouting Report: Cole Anthony - Overtime Heroics
https://www.overtimeheroics.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/ca.jpg

I guess I’m on my own. I don’t need to put my name anymore, right? This kid has bounce, and is a great scorer. I hope for the best for him.

16. Portland Trail Blazers – Isaiah Stewart, Washington

Isaiah is one name that I can never spell correctly, and maybe that’s because there are multiple ways of spelling it. I’ll blame it on that. One word to describe this guy: Beast! He is huge and will secure every loose ball.

17. Minnesota Timberwolves – Aleksej Pokuevski, Olympiacos

Technically going to the Thunder, and I hate that the draft does this. Is he the next Tingus Pingus? Seems like a project, but OKC sure has time.

18. Dallas Mavericks – Josh Green, Arizona

They needed a guard/wing defender next to Luka. He’ll likely get burn, and he gets to play next to the best young player in the league. He’s going to be a part of a team in the playoff hunt. PS. Arizona was my favourite college team to watch this year, so I’m happy for him.

19. Brooklyn Nets – Saddiq Bey, Villanova

So I guess he’s going to Detroit? Why do they make the draft so confusing! My saying with the draft is “Villanova players never fail.” Jay Wright always gets his guys ready for the league. I guess Landry Shamet has a chance to be head coach for a night now with the trade too?

20. Miami Heat – Precious Achiuwa, Memphis

Did I just read that his brother’s name is God’s Gift??? That’s elite! Hopefully Precious is Miami’s gift. I like this guy – animal, athlete, astronomical? I don’t know, just needed another “A” word.

21. Philadelphia 76ers – Tyrese Maxey, Kentucky

Tyrese Maxey - Men's Basketball - University of Kentucky Athletics
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I know Rob, our resident Kentucky fan is jumping for joy. Philly needs a guy like this, who can play on and off ball. Anyone who can shoot helps the 76ers, and I believe he can shoot better than his college stats show. Shout out Danny Green who I still have faith in too.

22. Denver Nuggets – Zeke Nnaji, Arizona

This is the guy who I wanted for the Raptors. Safe to say I’m a little upset, but I still trust Masai. He is a great fit next to Jokic, and I really like this for Denver.

23. New York Knicks – Leandro Bolmaro, FC Barcelona

Can’t say I know anything about him, but i know some analysts who think he is extremely underrated. I hope so, because they just did the absolute most for him with that Argentinian cartoon.

Just learned he’s going to Minnesota… Nice.

24. Milwaukee Bucks – RJ Hampton, New Zealand Breakers

R.J. Hampton scored a season-high 14 points in a loss for NZ Breakers
https://therookiewire.usatoday.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/12/2019/10/gettyimages-1183517709.jpg

Did his dad just throw his hat? I’m so confused, but I’m also laughing so hard. New Orleans has a lot of young talent, hopefully he and every other first round pick is sufficient for Jrue Holiday.

Never mind, he is now going to Denver…. Cool. This is live folks, no where else do you read reactions in real time.

25. Oklahoma City Thunder – Immanuel Quickley, Kentucky

Add another young guy to this OKC young core. He should balance off SGA really well. Great shooter, and that’s all I got to say. Should get my guy Rob on this piece for some Kentucky love.

Rob Shaw – I echo what Zach says about the shooting. First round seems early, but he is one of the most underrated shooters in the draft.

Zach back, he is on his way to New York, and that’s good, because that team needs some guards to balance out their roster.

26. Boston Celtics – Payton Pritchard, Oregon

Old man, Matt is asleep, so I get to talk about his Celtics. I don’t care if he’s just dribbling in his garage, that handle was tight. Solid pick I guess, he looks quick and shifty. I can’t cap, I don’t know much about him, but he’s got a nice highlight reel.

27. Utah Jazz – Udoka Azubuike, Kansas

This guy is huge, and a big presence. Should be a nice starting center once Rudy gets traded. I’m kidding… I think.

28. Los Angeles Lakers – Jaden McDaniels, Washington

LeBron didn’t want him, so he was traded for Schroeder, and then traded again to Minnesota. Minnesota is assembling one hell of a young core in this draft. This is the type of guy that you want to pair with KAT: a good defender, and a great athlete.

29. Toronto Raptors – Malachi Flynn, San Diego St.

I guess the last San Diego St. guy worked out pretty well for Toronto… I like this pick. Toronto loves defense, and I think it’s safe to say the defensive player of the year can play defense. With the potential of Fred VanVleet gone (I still don’t think so) and Kyle Lowry aging out, Flynn should be a good addition.

30. Boston Celtics – Desmond Bane, TCU

NBA Draft results 2020: Grizzlies acquire TCU G Desmond Bane via Celtics  with No. 30 overall pick - DraftKings Nation
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This guy is deezed, Desmond Bane is a solid defender and a good shooter. But ya, huge muscles.

Predicting NBA Three-Point Shooting Part 2: Random Forests

Featured Image By Eli Lucero / Herald Journal

By Andrew Lawlor

A few weeks ago, I published a model projecting three-point shooting numbers in the NBA for this year’s draft class. I used a linear model based on college statistics, and it was pretty good, but it did have some problems, particularly around upperclassmen and players who did not take a lot of free throws (which is somewhat common among three-point specialists).

To improve my projections, I switched to using a tree-based model from a linear one. In a linear model, you  create an equation like y = mx + b (think back to algebra). y is what you are predicting (in this case, NBA three-point percentage), and x is the value (or values—there can be more than one) you are using to predict; the x values (or predictor variables) in the first model were college numbers for three-point percentage, three-point rate (the percentage of field goal attempts that are threes), two-point jumpshot percentage, free-throw percentage, and position. Then, you pick m and b values that fit the data.

A tree-based model uses decision trees to create predictions. Decision trees are a lot like flow charts. Think of this classic one by Twitter god Shea Serrano, but using statistics instead. In a shooting decision tree, we would divide up data into groups using decisions on the chart, and then calculate the average three-point shooting percentage of all the shooters in each bucket. This average becomes the prediction for shooters whose college statistics place them in that group. Here’s a visual representation of a simple tree for shooting:

I used a random forest, which takes a ton of these trees and combines the results to get an accurate prediction, for this model. Random forests follow the wisdom of the crowd; the idea that the opinion of the masses is better than the opinion of one expert.

The results of the random forest model are more accurate than the linear model. Using career three-point percentage, career free-throw percentage, career two-point jump shot percentage, career three-point rate, and the individual season numbers for the player’s last season in college for all of the above statistics (these were the same as the career numbers for freshmen), I ended up with a .26 R-squared value (the percentage of the variance in the data that can be explained by the model) for the test set (compared to .15 before), with a .026 mean absolute error (previously .028) and a .035 root mean-squared error (previously .039). All data came from Bart Torvik’s site again.

I found that career college free-throw percentage is the most predictive statistic for NBA three-point percentage, with a relative feature importance of .19. The second-most predictive is free throw percentage in a player’s last college season (.17). This is consistent with most other models out there predicting NBA shooting success; after all, a free throw is an isolated indicator of shooting ability, with no defense or anything to complicate the shot. 

This model did a pretty good job of predicting past players. Duncan Robinson had the best prediction in the set (40.3 percent) and ended up as the second-best shooter in the set (43.7 percent, above his prediction, but within his 95 percent confidence interval). Stephen Curry (40.1 percent predicted, 43.5 percent actual), Gary Trent Jr. (39.7 percent predicted, 40.5 percent actual), and Buddy Hield (39.3 percent predicted, 39.0 percent actual) all also did well in both predictions and actual shooting.

Like the first model, this model missed on Michael Porter Jr. due to his limited sample size of three games in college (35.6 percent predicted, 42.2 percent actual). It also missed pretty heavily on Khris Middleton, predicting him to only be a 33.5 percent shooter in the NBA based on poor college three-point shooting numbers (32.8 percent for his career, only 25 percent in his last season) that were not enough to overcome his 75 percent career free throw percentage.

Utah State senior Sam Merrill projects to shoot 38.1 percent from three in the NBA, the best value in this draft class. His 95 percent prediction interval is 32.2 percent–44.0 percent, meaning there is a 95 percent chance his career NBA three-point percentage falls in that range.

Tyrell Terry (37.8 percent), Aaron Nesmith (37.8 percent), Markus Howard (37.8 percent), and Nate Darling (37.6 percent) all also project well. So does the top shooter in the old model, Immanuel Quickley (37.5 percent).

Anthony Edwards projects decently (34.5 percent), with his strong 76.9 free throw percentage outweighing his poor 29.1 three-point percentage.

Interestingly, Devin Vassell (34.2 percent) and Obi Toppin (33.1 percent) do not project well, despite the fact that both carry some regard as outside shooters. In both cases, a mediocre free-throw percentage is the culprit (72.0 percent for Vassell, 70.6 percent for Toppin). Neither relied on sharpshooting to build a draft case, but these poor projections should give teams pause.

Here are the numbers for everyone in the class, with a 95 percent prediction interval:

NamePredicted NBA Three-Point PercentagePrediction Interval
Sam Merrill38.1 percent32.3 percent – 44.0 percent
Tyrell Terry37.8 percent32.0 percent – 43.7 percent
Aaron Nesmith37.8 percent32.0 percent – 43.7 percent
Markus Howard37.8 percent31.9 percent – 43.6 percent
Nate Darling37.6 percent31.7 percent – 43.5 percent
Immanuel Quickley37.5 percent31.6 percent – 43.3 percent
Isaiah Joe37.2 percent31.3 percent – 43.0 percent
Cassius Winston36.8 percent31.0 percent – 42.7 percent
Tyrese Haliburton36.4 percent30.6 percent – 42.3 percent
Ty-Shon Alexander36.3 percent30.5 percent – 42.2 percent
Desmond Bane35.7 percent29.9 percent – 41.6 percent
Jordan Nwora35.7 percent29.9 percent – 41.6 percent
Payton Pritchard35.5 percent29.6 percent – 41.3 percent
Tyrese Maxey35.3 percent29.4 percent – 41.2 percent
Saddiq Bey35.2 percent29.3 percent – 41.0 percent
Killian Tillie34.9 percent29.0 percent – 40.8 percent
Skylar Mays34.9 percent29.0 percent – 40.7 percent
Mason Jones34.8 percent28.9 percent – 40.6 percent
Devon Dotson34.7 percent28.9 percent – 40.6 percent
Jalen Harris34.6 percent28.8 percent – 40.5 percent
Malachi Flynn34.6 percent28.7 percent – 40.4 percent
Anthony Edwards34.5 percent28.7 percent – 40.4 percent
Patrick Williams34.5 percent28.7 percent – 40.4 percent
Nico Mannion34.5 percent28.7 percent – 40.4 percent
Jahmi’us Ramsey34.5 percent28.6 percent – 40.3 percent
Zeke Nnaji34.3 percent28.4 percent – 40.1 percent
Devin Vassell34.3 percent28.4 percent – 40.1 percent
Jalen Harris34.2 percent28.4 percent – 40.1 percent
Grant Riller34.2 percent28.4 percent – 40.1 percent
Malik Fitts34.2 percent28.3 percent – 40.1 percent
Kira Lewis Jr.34.1 percent28.3 percent – 40.0 percent
Nathan Knight33.8 percent28.0 percent – 39.7 percent
Elijah Hughes33.8 percent27.9 percent – 39.6 percent
Josh Green33.7 percent27.9 percent – 39.6 percent
Jaden McDaniels33.7 percent27.8 percent – 39.6 percent
Tre Jones33.6 percent27.8 percent – 39.5 percent
Isaiah Stewart33.6 percent27.8 percent – 39.5 percent
Cassius Stanley33.6 percent27.7 percent – 39.4 percent
Saben Lee33.5 percent27.7 percent – 39.4 percent
CJ Elleby33.5 percent27.6 percent – 39.3 percent
Reggie Perry33.4 percent27.6 percent – 39.3 percent
Cole Anthony33.4 percent27.6 percent – 39.3 percent
Ashton Hagans33.4 percent27.5 percent – 39.2 percent
Isaac Okoro33.4 percent27.5 percent – 39.2 percent
Rayshaun Hammonds33.4 percent27.5 percent – 39.2 percent
Mamadi Diakite33.3 percent27.5 percent – 39.2 percent
Robert Woodard II33.3 percent27.4 percent – 39.2 percent
Paul Reed33.3 percent27.4 percent – 39.1 percent
Kaleb Wesson33.2 percent27.4 percent – 39.1 percent
James Wiseman33.2 percent27.4 percent – 39.1 percent
Jalen Smith33.2 percent27.4 percent – 39.1 percent
Obi Toppin33.2 percent27.3 percent – 39.0 percent
Omer Yurtseven33.0 percent27.2 percent – 38.9 percent
Tyler Bey32.8 percent27.0 percent – 38.7 percent
Sha’markus Kennedy32.7 percent26.8 percent – 38.5 percent
Vernon Carey Jr.32.4 percent26.5 percent – 38.2 percent
Onyeka Okongwu32.3 percent26.5 percent – 38.2 percent
Filip Petrusev32.3 percent26.4 percent – 38.1 percent
Xavier Tillman32.1 percent26.2 percent – 38.0 percent
Daniel Oturu32.1 percent26.2 percent – 37.9 percent
Lamine Diane31.8 percent25.9 percent – 37.6 percent
Jon Teske31.6 percent25.7 percent – 37.4 percent
Yoeli Childs31.6 percent25.7 percent – 37.4 percent
Freddie Gillespie31.5 percent25.6 percent – 37.4 percent
Nick Richards31.3 percent25.4 percent – 37.1 percent
Precious Achiuwa31.0 percent25.2 percent – 36.9 percent
Austin Wiley29.0 percent23.1 percent – 34.8 percent
Tyrique Jones26.8 percent20.9 percent – 32.7 percent

The Playgrounder Mock Draft

Featured Image By Rick Rycroft/AP

  1. Minnesota Timberwolves – LaMelo Ball, Guard, Illawarra Hawks

The consensus on internet mock drafts had been centering on Ball as the top pick until some late action for Edwards yesterday. Still, Ball is the better prospect. He has been famous for years, but LaMelo has some real game, too; he is a 6-foot-7 point guard who can make all the passes in the book and has a great handle to boot. Sure, his game has warts—namely shooting and defensive effort—but Ball has the most potential of anyone in this class. Andrew Lawlor

  1. Golden State Warriors – James Wiseman, Center, Memphis

The Warriors have been linked to countless players, and it is very possible they trade it for immediate help. If they do keep it, Wiseman is a good fit for their current roster as a center with the size to effectively protect the rim and the quickness to step out and defend on the perimeter. He is still very raw and only played three games in college, so this pick is a risk, but the potential benefits are enormous.  AL

  1. Charlotte Hornets – Anthony Edwards, Guard, Georgia

There are a lot of rumors connecting the Hornets to a big man, so they would probably take Wiseman if he is there, and they may look at Onyeka Okongwu as well. But at the end of the day, they need talent. It looks like GM Mitch Kupchak agrees, as he told the Charlotte Observer, “right now I think it’s premature to sit down and say, ‘Listen, this team is a 50-win team, and where do we need the most help? Let’s try to get this team to a 55- or 57-win team.’ We’re not there right now.” Assuming Wiseman and Ball are gone, they’ll take the third of the consensus three best players in this draft in Edwards, a wing who’s built like a linebacker and can power his way through defenders to the rim, with a solid jumper as well. There are questions about his feel for the game and shot selection, but he could be great. AL

  1. Chicago Bulls – Deni Avdija, Forward, Maccabi Tel Aviv

Avdija is a jack of all trades, master of none. He is big (6-foot-9, 6-foot-9 wingspan), but not huge; he is a good playmaker, but not a visionary like Ball or Hayes; he is a good defender, but not a true stopper. The Bulls need all of the above, especially on the wing, so it is no surprise that most mocks are linking them with the Israeli forward. The one area where Avdija struggles is his shooting, and this will need to come around for him to have success. But Avdija has solid form, so it is not out of the question that he becomes at least an average shooter. If he does, he will be a solid starter in the NBA for years to come. AL

  1. Cleveland Cavaliers – Obi Toppin, Forward, Dayton

Ah, yes, the eternal draft conundrum: do you pass on a better prospect in favor of a cleaner fit? Or do you hoard talent and figure out the rest later? The Cavaliers could try to thread the needle—they appear to have something resembling a viable roster plan, and with Isaac Okoro, Onyeka Okongwu, and a pair of Seminoles still on the board, Cleveland has several options to shore up their legendarily bad perimeter defense without passing on a clearly better prospect. Instead, general consensus is that they’ll choose Option C and draft Obi Toppin, who both feels like a reach at five and could join Collin Sexton and Darius Garland to form a Triforce of anemic defenders the likes of which professional basketball has rarely seen. On the bright side, Toppin could provide SexLand with a more dynamic pick-and-roll partner than they’ve yet had and, at 22 years old, projects to have a relatively high floor. But this pick feels less like threading the needle than the Cavs poking themselves in the eye with it. Nick Trizzino

  1. Atlanta Hawks – Onyeka Okongwu, Center, USC

Okongwu has been compared to John Collins often during the pre-draft process due to Okongwu’s propensity for finishing lobs. The main difference is that Collins is a better shooter while Okongwu projects as a better defender and rim-protector. Being able to switch them out depending on personnel would be a huge plus for the Hawks’ depth. Okongwu stated he thinks he can be a player similar to Bam Adebayo. For a team that has struggled on defense, adding a player who some consider the best defender in the draft fills a big need for Atlanta. James Garcia

  1. Detroit Pistons – Patrick Williams, Forward, Florida State

Williams is flying up draft boards and has been heavily linked with Detroit; John Hollinger said in his last mock draft that Williams may even have a promise from the Pistons. Williams is a 19-year-old forward with great size and athleticism, the kind of player who could develop into a star. He is also a good enough defender where he can play quality minutes in the NBA right off the bat. He does not have much of a track record after serving as Florida State’s sixth man in his lone season in college, but Williams is a relatively safe play with high upside. AL

  1. New York Knicks – Kira Lewis Jr., Guard, Alabama

The Knicks finished the 2019–2020 season ranked near or at the bottom of the league in three-pointers taken, three-pointers made, and three-point percentage. They have to draft someone who can shoot. The Knicks are also in dire need of a dynamic talent who can push the pace. Drafting Kira Lewis, a player with blinding speed and an impressive pull-up game from deep, would signal that the franchise is committed to building around RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson. Time will tell whether Lewis is more of a point guard or a shooting guard, but there is no question about his talent and what he can bring to the Knicks. Geoffrey Campbell

  1. Washington Wizards – Isaac Okoro, Forward, Auburn

The Wizards have been heavily linked with Okongwu, but he is already gone in this mock draft. Instead, in Okoro, they get a wing who can help out on defense instead. The Wizards were incompetent defensively last season, and need to get better quickly if they hope to compete for the playoffs this year. Okoro is divisive; he is a great defender with great athleticism, but his jump shot is still developing. AL

  1. Phoenix Suns – Tyrese Haliburton, Guard, Iowa State

After trading for Chris Paul, the Suns need to rebuild their depth, and Haliburton is the kind of player who can fill in the gaps in a lineup. He is an excellent passer with a great feel for the game; the type of player teammates love to play with. There are questions around his ability to run the pick-and-roll or serve as a primary ball-handler, but that is less of a worry with Devin Booker and Paul in place. AL

  1. San Antonio Spurs – Devin Vassell, Guard, Florida State

Apparently the Spurs are looking for help on the wings, and Vassell is one of the highest wings on the board. He is a great defender already, with a good three-point shot (minus one notorious video from a couple weeks ago). If he still has a workable shot, Vassell is a great three-and-D option who can help right away. He falls here because he lacks the ceiling of some of the other prospects; teams are worried he will not offer much in the way of shot-creation. But with his high floor, the Spurs could do worse than to end up with Vassell. AL

  1. Sacramento Kings – Killian Hayes, Guard, Ratiopharm Ulm

Hayes is Kevin O’Connor’s top prospect, with a great feel for the game and passing ability, but poor three-point shooting numbers (his free throw numbers, historically a better predictor of outside shooting ability in the NBA, are much better) and questionable athleticism could hold him back. The Kings already have De’Aaron Fox, but lack secondary ball-handlers, making them a good fit for Hayes, the best player left on the board. AL

  1. New Orleans Pelicans – Saddiq Bey, Forward, Villanova

New Orleans has a solid young core in place and now needs pieces to complement their potential stars. Bey is a great shooter and a good defender—the kind of wing that no NBA team can ever have enough of—with some upside as a playmaker as well. He is a match made in heaven for the Pelicans. AL

  1. Boston Celtics – RJ Hampton, Guard, New Zealand Breakers

The top rumor about the Celtics is that they are trying to trade this pick. But if they keep it, Danny Ainge loves former top recruits who have fallen a little bit after their first year out of high school—ask Romeo Langford last year. Hampton is an explosive guard with lots of potential, but he needs to work on his jumper and defensive fundamentals. AL

  1. Orlando Magic – Aaron Nesmith, Forward, Vanderbilt

The Magic have consistently drafted players with length since Jeff Weltmann and John Hammond took over. Nesmith is no different, with a 6-foot-10 wingspan. But, unlike the other players they have drafted, Nesmith is also a marksman from long range, shooting 41% from three and 83% from the free throw line over two seasons at Vanderbilt. The Magic were incompetent from deep last year, so Nesmith really is a perfect fit. AL

  1. Houston Rockets – Precious Achiuwa, Center, Memphis

A former five-star high-school recruit who hasn’t fully put it together, the player Precious Achiuwa thinks he is and the player he actually is are very different. Achiuwa sees himself as a big wing, and often wants to play from the perimeter. What scouts see is a small-ball big. Playing center without Wiseman actually did wonders for Achiuwa’s draft stock because he was able to show his high motor, particularly on the boards. After getting this pick from the Blazers, the Rockets get a young energy big with untapped offensive potential. Rob Shaw

  1. Minnesota Timberwolves – Jalen Smith, Forward, Maryland

As a 7-footer who can shoot from outside, put the ball on the floor, block shots, and rebound, Smith fits the profile of the prototypical modern big. However, despite his shot-blocking ability, he is not a great defender  due to his slight frame and poor mobility, and he also needs to develop as a passer. Still, his shooting should make him a productive member of Minnesota’s bench. AL

  1. Dallas Mavericks – Josh Green, Guard, Arizona

For this pick, we turned to the host of the Mavs Draft podcast (and one of the best draft analysts on Twitter), Richard Stayman:

“The Mavs need high level defenders and spot up shooters, and Josh Green checks both of those boxes. With one of the highest motors in the class and all-world athleticism, if Green’s intangibles check out, look for Dallas to heavily target him on draft night.” Richard Stayman

  1. Brooklyn Nets – Cole Anthony, Guard, North Carolina

There are rumors swirling that the Nets may trade this pick as part of a package for James Harden. If they keep it, Brooklyn is apparently interested in ball-handlers in this draft, so they may look to target Anthony, a former top recruit who struggled in his only season at North Carolina. But there were mitigating circumstances; the Tar Heels played lots of non-shooters, severely cramping the floor, and Anthony was hurt for a lot of the season. At the end of the day, Anthony is a talented ball-handler who can create his own shot, and that is one of the rarest skills to find in the NBA. AL

  1. Miami Heat – Tyrese Maxey, Guard, Kentucky

Maxey’s production at Kentucky was only okay, but he carried a lot of hype as a recruit and can defend while serving as a secondary playmaker. Stick him in Miami’s legendary development program and he could be a solid defensive guard, a la Derrick Jones Jr. AL

  1. Philadelphia 76ers – Desmond Bane, Guard, TCU

For help with this pick, we turned to Daniel Olinger, contributor for Liberty Ballers and The Step Back:

“Bane has the best shooting track record in the class, making around 44 percent of his threes over his four-year TCU career, and he provides versatility in terms of shot making as well. Bane is also an expert pick-and-roll passer and someone the Sixers can trust with the ball in his hands from day one.” Daniel Olinger

  1. Denver Nuggets – Aleksej Pokusevski, Forward, Olympiacos

This may be too low for Pokusevski (pronounced Uh-Lek-See Poh-Koo-Shev-Ski), who seems to be gaining steam in NBA circles. But if he is still around, Denver has a love for European prospects and taking swings. Pokusevski could be incredible—he is an 18-year-old 7-footer with a legit handle, creative passing chops, and impressive shot-making ability. But he also hasn’t played above the Greek second division and is only carrying 208 pounds in that 7-foot frame, so there are concerns about his ability to hold up to NBA strength. The draft’s mystery man, Pokusevski could be the next unicorn, or he could be Dragan Bender. Somebody will take a swing on him, and it may be pretty high. — AL

  1. Utah Jazz – Theo Maledon, Guard, ASVEL

The long-armed Maledon brings a good feel for the game, solid shooting, and the potential to be a good defender. There is not much excitement here, but he should stick as a rotation player, and could develop into a starter as Mike Conley Jr. and Joe Ingles age. — AL

  1. New Orleans Pelicans – Malachi Flynn, Guard, San Diego State

The Pelicans acquired this pick from Milwaukee in the Jrue Holiday trade. Flynn is a steady playmaker who gives them another secondary ball-handler after giving up Holiday. As an upperclassman, he can also contribute right away as they look to compete in the loaded West. — AL

  1. Oklahoma City Thunder – Jaden McDaniels, Forward, Washington

There’s not a guy left on the board who has higher upside than McDaniels, a 6-foot-10, wing-y forward who possesses a 7-foot wingspan and has shown the ability to make an impact on the defensive end and gives the Thunder the option to roll out a Bazley/McDaniels pairing at the 3 and 4 spots to provide defense and floor spacing. McDaniels can handle the ball fairly well too and has displayed excellent touch on runners, flashed the ability to shoot threes off the dribble, and shot it well from the charity stripe (76.3 percent on 114 attempts). Oh, and he just turned 20 in September. Dustin McLaughlin

  1. Boston Celtics – Leandro Bolmaro, Forward, FC Barcelona

The Celtics have a full roster and three first-rounders, so if they use all of them, it makes sense to take at least one raw player they can stash overseas. Bolmaro fits the bill. The Barcelona forward is a great playmaker, but there are questions surrounding his jumper and athleticism. If the jumper comes along, he could be useful. Otherwise, he probably is not an NBA player. The Celtics can afford to take that risk with their deep roster. — AL

  1. New York Knicks – Xavier Tillman, Forward, Michigan State

Standing 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, Tillman is a great finisher out of the pick-and-roll, and is also a very good passing big. A smart, high-character player, Tillman will add value to any team that drafts him. He’s not much of a shooter, but his form isn’t terrible. He could be a great backup option for Julius Randle and/or Mitchell Robinson. — GC

  1. Oklahoma City Thunder – Immanuel Quickley, Guard, Kentucky

It’s hard to find better value at 28 than a guy who can shoot the lights out and defend opposing guards fairly well. Quickley had a monster year shooting the ball at Kentucky this past season, knocking down ~42 percent of his three-pointers with a solid distribution of on- and off-ball attempts. It’s no secret that the Thunder have had trouble finding good shooters in recent years so it is easy to see Quickley stepping and providing a reliable scoring punch off the bench. He also does a great job of using his 6-foot-8 wingspan to bother opposing shooters, whether  in isolation or pick-and-roll actions. In a three-point heavy league, Quickley is sure to provide excellent value, even if he’s just an off the bench contributor. DM

  1. Toronto Raptors – Zeke Nnaji, Center, Arizona

If there is one thing the Raptors like, it’s versatile defenders. Nnaji’s 7-foot-1 wingspan provides just that for a team who could well lose one or both of their centers in free agency. Nnaji is an extremely fluid athlete, which is something the Raptors haven’t had at the center position in a while. For a guy who has a decent-looking jumper and could play next to a traditional center or a more-mobile frontcourt partner like Pascal Siakam, the Raptors couldn’t find a more seamless fit. Zach Wilson

  1. Boston Celtics – Tyler Bey, Forward, Colorado

Like their other picks, there is a high likelihood the Celtics trade this. But regardless of who ends up with it, Bey is almost certainly the best player left on the board. He is crazy athletic and will be able to stick in an NBA rotation from day one thanks to his defense. Bey played mostly as a big in college, so he will have to adapt his offensive game to produce in the pros, but he has shown some potential as a spot-up shooter and will have no problem finishing at the rim. — AL