There is hope on the horizon: as more and more teams continue to re-open their facilities, the NBA would seem that much closer to a return.
That said, there is still a very long road ahead. And, in the meantime, Basketball Insiders has done our best to help mitigate the monotony of quarantine. Recently, we’ve taken a look at the last decade of the NBA draft, breaking down each player pick by pick.
If you haven’t already, make sure to check out our analysis of the first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth overall picks. Today, we’ll be looking at the players taken with the seventh selection. So, without further ado, let’s get into it.
Stephen Curry — Golden State Warriors — 2009
In the last 10 seasons, Curry, by far, is the best player to occupy the seventh draft slot. Arguably, he’s the best player to ever do so.
For a down-and-out franchise like the Warriors, Curry’s drop in 2009 was a franchise-altering stroke of luck. The Minnesota Timberwolves even doubled-dipped at the point guard position ahead of them, selecting Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn, yet the sharpshooter out of Davidson, the future two-time Most Valuable Player and three-time champion, fell into their lap.
Would Curry have led the Timberwolves to their first Larry O’Brien trophy? It’s hard to say. What isn’t hard to say is the major impact Curry has had on the NBA would transcend almost any alternate reality where Minnesota, or any other team for the matter, draft him ahead of Golden State.
If the first unanimous MVP in league history doesn’t convince you of that fact, his career stats might: 23.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.7 steals and an NBA record (among players with at least 2000 attempts) 43.5 percent three-point percentage.
You get it.
Harrison Barnes — Golden State Warriors — 2012
Barnes may not live up to his pick-mate, but he’s a solid pick in his own right.
As the Warriors third option to Curry and Klay Thompson, Barnes’ early numbers don’t impress. But the Warriors didn’t need him to do much, either — he may have been more a role player than bonafide “hit” for Golden State, but Barnes filled his role to the best of his ability and was a strong contributor on a championship roster.
And, with a move away from California, Barnes’ production took a major leap. In the four seasons post-Golden State, Barnes has averaged 17.4 points, on a 44.8 percent field goal percentage and a solid 37.4 percent from three, to go along with five rebounds per game.
Barnes averaged 14.2 shots per game, compared to the meager 8.5 he managed in his four seasons with the Warriors, and, while he may not carry an offense alone, he’d be a strong option on almost any squad.
If that’s not a hit, then I don’t know what is.
Jamal Murray — Denver Nuggets — 2016
The 2016 NBA Draft was often described as a “two-player” draft. Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram were the superstars — beyond that, who cared?
Murray, as Jaylen Brown (No. 3) and Buddy Hield (No. 6) have, has seemingly proven everyone wrong just four seasons into his career.
After a promising rookie season, Murray took his game to a new level and hasn’t looked back. His scoring has improved year after year, while his percentages are strong and his penchant for success in the clutch would seem to be undeniable.
Alongside Nikola Jokic, Murray has pushed Denver into the Western Conference’s elite: Before the shutdown, Murray’s fourth season, the electric guard had averaged 18.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists per game with the Nuggets once again in position to claim one of the Western Conference’s top seeds.
As Denver’s success persists, Murray’s star should only shine brighter. He’s already flashed, but don’t be shocked if Murray, even in a packed Western Conference, plays his name into the All-Star conversation in the near future.
Ben McLemore — Sacramento Kings — 2013
It’s safe to say that any top-10 pick that’s had the career McLemore has should be categorized as a miss. He may not be a bust yet — he’s certainly redeemable, to a point, anyway — but McLemore just hasn’t lived up to his billing at this point in his career.
In seven seasons, McLemore has averaged nine points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game. A career 42.1 percent shooter, he’s struggled with his shot and, more importantly, his confidence.
After four seasons in Sacramento, McLemore managed just one season with the Memphis Grizzlies, a year in which he bounced between the NBA and G League, before he was traded back to Sacramento and, later, waived.
Here’s something a bit more positive, however: Before the season had cut short, McLemore had seemingly found his footing with the Houston Rockets.
With Gerald Green and Eric Gordon injured, McLemore earned some playtime. And, alongside James Harden and Russell Westbrook, the game seemed to have been simplified for him: in 63 games, McLemore played some of his best basketball as he averaged 9.8 points, shot 39.5 percent on 6.2 three-point attempts per game and played some strong defense.
As the seventh selection, it’s not the star he was made out to be. But it’s promising nonetheless. And, while McLemore isn’t there yet, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him play his way into the role player category in the near future.
Emmanuel Mudiay — Denver Nuggets — 2015
Mudiay, rather than joining the NCAA ranks, chose to play in China after graduating high school. His success there — 17.7 points, six rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.6 steals — saw his hype explode in the lead up to the 2015 NBA Draft.
But, in hindsight, it really shouldn’t have.
There was a lot to like about Mudiay as a prospect. At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, he certainly has the size and the athletic profile necessary to succeed in the NBA. But, unfortunately for the Nuggets, that’s about as good as it got.
From the jump, Mudiay struggled. And, while there were some games he would flash, those were few and far between. While his 12.8 points and 5.5 assists per game looked strong, the 36.4 field goal percentage and suspect defense that accompanied them did not.
Handed the starting job as a rookie, Mudiay would cede the role to Jameer Nelson in his second season. Later, on Denver’s guard-rich roster, he eventually lost the backup job, too. In his third year, the Nuggets traded Mudiay to the New York Knicks, where he was once again given the starter role and averaged 11.8 points, 2.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 82 games spread across two seasons. Now, in a reserve role with the Utah Jazz, he’s managed 7.3 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists.
His game has certainly improved since his time in Denver. Most notably, his field goal percentage had jumped to 47.1 percent before the league’s shutdown, albeit on only six shots per game. Still, Mudiay hasn’t lived up to his draft slot and, at this point, it’s hard to imagine he ever will.
The Middle of the Road
Julius Randle — Los Angeles Lakers — 2014
Early on, Randle looked destined to serve as a role player. But, in recent seasons, he’s shown to be capable of far more.
Of course, as with most lottery prospects, there was the occasional flash. But, with the Lakers, Randle didn’t “wow” anybody on a consistent basis. The 13.5 points and 8.9 rebounds he averaged in his first four seasons didn’t exactly scream superstar, either.
Then, Randle made his way to the New Orleans Pelicans, and everything just seemed to click.
It’s just a two-season sample, but Randle has played near (if not at) an All-Star level in his post-Lakers career. In his lone season with the Pelicans, Randle blew up as he averaged 21.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists and shot 52.4 percent from the field. He was one of only seven that season to average at least 21 points and 8 rebounds while playing in at least 60 games.
The other six? Giannis Antetokounmpo, Paul George, Karl Anthony-Towns, LaMarcus Aldridge, Joel Embiid and Russell Westbrook.
Randle’s surge had continued into the 2019-20 regular season with the New York Knicks. Before the NBA’s hiatus, the forward managed an impressive 19.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists, and did so in arguably the most dysfunctional environment in the NBA, an achievement in and of itself.
After only two seasons of high-level play, it’s hard to justify Randle as a surefire “hit.” That said, he’s close, and that could change very quickly if he can continue to build on the progress he’s made in the last two seasons.
Lauri Markkanen — Chicago Bulls — 2017
Markkanen’s career trajectory would appear to be at a crossroads. And it’s not looking good.
The forward out of Arizona shined as a rookie, serving as Chicago fans’ light in the post-Jimmy Butler darkness. He averaged 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds across 68 games. As a sophomore, Markkanen raised the bar despite the fact that he was limited due to injury — he averaged 18.7 and nine per game, respectively, in 52 contests.
No doubt, he had the look of a rising star.
But, in his third season, Markkanen has faced some significant regression. His output has either stagnated or worsened across the board — including career low scoring (14.7), rebounding (6.5) field goal (42.5) and three-point percentage (34.4) averages — and, having played 50 games, it’s unlikely he’ll see a marked improvement should the season resume.
Going forward, a change of scenery may do him some good. If not, or if he can’t get right some other way, Markkanen might slide further and further away from that “hit” moniker and toward that of a role player (or worse), an idea that would have been laughed at after such a promising start to his career.
Wendell Carter Jr. — Chicago Bulls — 2018
For Carter Jr., it’s just too early to call.
He’s certainly shown promise. In 84 games across his first two seasons, Carter has looked the part as he’s averaged 10.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, shot 50.8 percent from the floor while consistently playing hard on the defensive end.
But it’s that number: 84. With so few games played, it’s hard to say one way or the other what Carter’s future could look like. Could this be his best? Unlikely. But is it a possibility? Certainly. We just don’t know.
As he gets more games under his belt, that future should come further into focus. He certainly has the tools to put it together, it’s just a matter of whether or not Carter can effectively make use of them.
Coby White — Chicago Bulls — 2019
Yes, another Bull.
Like Carter, there just isn’t enough to go on to make a solid declaration on White. Yes, the talent would seem to be there — White averaged 13.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists in 65 games — but the North Carolina product struggled in a number of categories, namely field goal percentage (39.4 percent).
He certainly has the potential to blossom. But the NBA has seen far too many promising rookie seasons followed up by sub-par careers. For White, at this point, it’s just a wait-and-see.
The Role Players
Greg Monroe — Detroit Pistons — 2010
Over the course of his career, Monroe was atrocious on defense. But, and despite the fact that he’s not currently under contract, his offensive game has saved him from “miss” status.
Monroe made an instant impact as a rookie, as he posted 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Over the next four seasons, Monroe averaged a strong 15.6 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game on 49.9 percent shooting. It was more of the same in the first of a three-year, $50 million deal he signed with the Milwaukee Bucks: 15.3 points and 8.8 rebounds on 52.2 percent from the field.
But, after that? It’s not pretty.
It’d be hard for any team to keep a center that doesn’t block many shots on the floor for extended stretches. Monroe, being such a center (with a career average of .6 blocks per game), saw a dip in minutes, from 29.3 to 22.5 per game. His scoring and rebounding averages, 11.7 and 6.6, respectively, suffered.
In the final year of his deal, Milwaukee traded Monroe to the Phoenix Suns, who later released him.
Despite that ugly turn, Monroe proved a desired commodity as a potential offensive sparkplug off the bench. He finished the 2018-19 season with the Boston Celtics before splitting last season between the Toronto Raptors, Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers.
Bismack Biyombo — Charlotte Bobcats — 2011
Were it not for his defensive acumen, Biyombo would have certainly gone down as a miss.
The 6-foot-8 center, over the course of his career, has brought almost nothing on offense. For his career, the center has managed a, to say the least, underwhelming 5.1 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. The 52.1 percent two-point field goal percentage he’s sported over nine seasons is 67th in the NBA in that span — not great when the majority of your shots come within three feet of the basket.
And yet, in one season with the Toronto Raptors, Biyombo parlayed his biggest strength, his defense, into a four-year, $72 million deal with the Orlando Magic in 2016.
The merit of that deal could certainly be argued, but that’s neither here nor there. In reality, Biyombo earned that deal as a defensive specialist and, despite inconsistent minutes, has continued to play much of the same role since.
The draft, ultimately, is a crapshoot. You can only analyze so much tape, run so many workouts before giving way to blind luck. That said, over the last 10 seasons, the NBA, collectively, has made great use of the seventh selection. Who could be the pick’s next success story?
Again, if you haven’t already, make sure to check out our analysis of the first six picks. And stay tuned for the rest of our draft lookback series.
NBA Daily: They Guessed Wrong
Matt John reflects on some of the key decisions that were made last summer, and how their disappointing results hurt both team outlooks and players’ legacies.
It doesn’t sound possible, but did you know that the crazy NBA summer of 2019 was, in fact, over a year ago? Wildly, in any normal, non-pandemic season, it all would have been over three months ago and, usually, media days would be right around the corner, but not this time. The 2019-20 NBA season is slated to end sometime in early to mid-October, so the fact that the last NBA off-season was over a year ago hasn’t really dawned on anyone yet. Craziest of all, even though there will still be an offseason, there technically won’t be any summer.
Coronavirus has really messed up the NBA’s order. Of course, there are much worse horrors that COVID-19 has inflicted upon the world – but because of what it’s done to the NBA, let’s focus on that and go back to the summer of 2019. It felt like an eternity, but the Golden State Warriors’ three-year reign had finally reached its end. The Toronto Raptors’ victory over the tyranny that was the Hamptons Five – as battered as they were – made it feel like order had been restored to the NBA. There was more to it than that though.
Klay Thompson’s and Kevin Durant’s season-ending injuries, along with the latter skipping town to join Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn meant two things.
1. Golden State was down for the count
2. Brooklyn’s time wasn’t coming until next year.
A one-year window was open. Even if neither Golden State nor Brooklyn posed the same threat that the former did when it had Kevin Durant, those were two contenders out of commission. If there was a time to go all in, it was in 2019.
Milwaukee certainly seemed to go all in. For the most part. Malcolm Brogdon’s departure seemed a little odd since he was arguably their best non-Giannis playmaker when they were in crunch time. Not to mention there was nothing really stopping the Bucks from keeping him except for money. Detractors will call out Milwaukee for electing to cheap out by not keeping Brogdon and hence, avoiding the luxury tax. However, there’s more to it than that.
Milwaukee thought it had enough with the core it had on its roster. Coming off the best season they had put up since the eighties, they believed the franchise built the right team to contend. There was an argument that keeping Brogdon may have been overkill with their guard depth – let’s not forget that Donte DiVincenzo did a solid job in Brogdon’s role as the backup facilitator. This would have been more defensible had it not been for Milwaukee picking the wrong guy to let go. That was the indefensible part- electing to keep Eric Bledsoe over Brogdon.
Bledsoe wasn’t necessarily a bad investment. No one’s complaining about an almost 15 point average on 47/34/79 splits or playing individual defense tight enough to get named on the All-Defensive second team. By all accounts, Bledsoe earns his keep. That is until the playoffs. Bledsoe’s postseason woes have been a weight ever since he first entered Milwaukee, and this postseason was more of the same.
Bledsoe’s numbers dwindled to just 11.7 points on 39/25/81 splits, and Milwaukee getting ousted in five games at the hands of Miami made his struggles stand out even more than it had ever been. Bledsoe may be the better athlete and the better defender, but Brogdon’s all-around offensive savvy and his only slight dropoff defensively from Brogdon would have made him a bit more reliable.
Milwaukee guessed wrong when they opted to extend Bledsoe before the postseason last year when they could have waited until that very time to evaluate who to keep around. Now they face a hell of a lot more questions than they did at the end of last season – questions that may have been avoided had they made the right choice.
Now they could have kept both of them, yes, but it’s not totally unreasonable to think that maybe their approach with the luxury tax would have worked and maybe they would still be in the postseason right now had they gone with the homegrown talent. And just maybe, there wouldn’t be nearly as much of this Greek Freak uncertainty.
The Houston Rockets can relate. They got bruised up by a team that everyone thought Houston had the edge on going into the series and then crushed by the Lakers. Now, Mike D’Antoni is gone. The full-time small ball experiment likely did not work out. Since the Rockets emptied most of their assets to bring in Russell Westbrook and Robert Covington, there may not be a route in which they can become better than they presently are.
The mistake wasn’t trading for Russell Westbrook. The mistake was trading Chris Paul.
To be fair, most everybody severely overestimated Chris Paul’s decline. He’s not among the best of the best anymore, but he’s still pretty darn close. He deserved his All-NBA second team selection as well as finishing No. 7 overall in MVP voting. OKC had no business being as good as they were this season, and Paul was the driving force as to why.
For all we know, the previously-assumed tension between Chris Paul and James Harden would have made its way onto the court no matter what. Even so, Houston’s biggest obstacle in the Bay Area had crumbled. If they had just stayed the course, maybe they’re still in the postseason too.
To their credit, none of this may have happened had it not been for the Kawhi Leonard decision. Had he chosen differently, the Thunder never blow it up, and Houston might have very well been the favorite in the Western Conference. Instead, the Rockets took a step back from being in the title discussion to dark horse. But at least they can take pride knowing that they weren’t expected to win it all – the Clippers can’t.
Seeing the Clippers fall well short expectations begs the question if they too got it wrong. The answer is, naturally: of course not. They may have paid a hefty price for Paul George, but the only way they were getting Kawhi Leonard – one of the best players of his generation – was if PG-13 came in the package. As lofty as it was, anyone would have done the same thing if they were in their shoes. They didn’t get it wrong. Kawhi did.
On paper, the Clippers had the most talented roster in the entire league. It seemed like they had every hole filled imaginable. Surrounding Leonard and George was three-point shooting, versatility, a productive second unit, an experienced coach – you name it. There was nothing stopping them from breaking the franchise’s long-lasting curse. Except themselves.
Something felt off about them. They alienated opponents. They alienated each other. At times, they played rather lackadaisically, like the title had already been signed, sealed, and delivered to them. The media all assumed they’d cut the malarkey and get their act together – but that moment never really came. They had their chances to put Denver away, but even if they had, after seeing their struggles to beat them – and to be fair Dallas too – would their day of destiny with the Lakers have really lived up to the hype?
Even if it was never in the cards, one can’t help but wonder what could have happened had Kawhi chosen to stay with the team he won his second title with.
Toronto was the most impressive team in this league this season. They still managed to stay at the top of the east in spite of losing an all-timer like Leonard. That team had every component of a winner except a superstar. They had the right culture for a championship team. Just not the right talent. The Clippers were the exact opposite. They had the right talent for a championship team but not the right culture. That’s why the Raptors walked away from the postseason feeling proud of themselves for playing to their full potential while the Clippers writhed in disappointment and angst over their future.
In the end, everyone mentioned here may ultimately blame what happened to their season on the extenuating circumstances from the pandemic. The Bucks’ chemistry never fully returned when the Bubble started. Contracting COVID and dealing with quad problems prevented Westbrook from reviving the MVP-type player he was before the hiatus. As troubling as the Clippers had played, the extra time they would have had to work things out in a normal season was taken away from them.
For all we know, next year will be a completely different story. The Rockets, Bucks, and Kawhi may ultimately have their faith rewarded for what they did in the summer of 2019 – but that will only be mere speculation until the trio can change the story.
Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards
Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.
We got some updated NBA draft news this week when the league announced that several key dates have been pushed back including the draft, the start of free agency and the beginning of the 2020-21 season.
The 2020 draft was originally scheduled for Oct. 16, but it will now likely occur sometime in November. Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic still wildly out of control in the United States, all of these potential deadlines are fluid and subject to change.
With that said, we’re continuing our position by position breakdown here at Basketball Insiders of some of the top 2020 draft prospects. We looked at the point guards and shooting guards last week, and this week we’re covering the small forwards and power forwards.
The power forward crop, like the draft overall, doesn’t appear to be as strong as recent years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential contributors and high-level NBA players available, as well as one who might just turn out to be a star-caliber player.
Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old
Okongwu is the player who just might develop into a star on some level. He was actually underrated in high school and was snubbed for a McDonald’s All-American selection his senior year. He established himself early on at USC as the team’s best player as a freshman and now appears to have turned some heads.
He’s been mentioned as a lottery pick and in some mock drafts, he’s top 4-5. He possesses a great all-around skill-set; he can score in the post, he can put the ball on the floor and attack and he can shoot. But perhaps his biggest attribute is his versatility on the defensive end. He’s got quick feet and mobility and can guard multiple positions.
Okongwu might actually play center in the NBA, especially in small-ball lineups, but he’s mostly played power forward and so he’ll probably see time there in the league. His skill-set fits perfectly with today’s game.
Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old
Toppin is one of the older players in the draft, and in recent history, players that age tend to slip on draft boards. In Toppin’s case, it looks like the reverse might actually be true. He’s been projected as a lottery pick, and even going in the top 3.
He’s an incredibly athletic player who thrives in the open court. He looks like he’ll do well in an up-tempo offensive system that has capable playmakers who can find him in transition. He’s extremely active around the rim and he can finish strong. A decent shooter too, something he’ll need at the next level.
Toppin has the physical tools to be an effective defensive player, but that’s where the questions marks on him have been. In the NBA, he’s likely going to have to play and guard multiple positions. Whether or not he can adapt to that likely will answer the question as to what his ceiling can be.
Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old
Achiuwa is another intriguing prospect. this writer actually got to watch him play in person while he was in high school and he was very impressive. He looked like a man among boys. He’s projected to be a late lottery pick.
He has an NBA-ready body and he’s got some toughness around the rim and in the paint. He was a double-double threat during his one season at Memphis and his knack for rebounding is something that should translate to the NBA. He’s a very good defender too, in particular, as a rim protector. He’s very quick and has the ability to guard multiple positions.
One of the main knocks on Achiuwa is his shooting ability. He didn’t shoot that well in college and power forwards being able to space the floor is almost a requirement in today’s NBA game. It’s something he can certainly work on and improve on though.
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old
Looking Toward the Draft: Small Forwards
Basketball Insiders’ examination of the 2020 draft class continues with a look at the small forwards.
It was announced on Wednesday that the NBA Draft would be delayed from Oct. 16 to Nov. 18. The rationale is that the extra month gives the league and its players association more time to negotiate changes to the CBA. It also grants teams additional time to procure information on prospects and allows the NBA to establish regional virtual combines. But nothing is set in stone.
Still, draft prep must continue. This year’s draft class has more question marks than usual – which was complicated by the cancellation of the NCAA tournament (along with the NIT and a number of conference tournaments). There are incredibly skilled offensive players with limited offensive upside and jaw-droppingly talented defenders with incomplete offensive packages. But if (recent) history serves as a guide, there will be a few guys who make an immediate impact – and some of them very well could be small forwards.
The small forward position is key for the modern NBA. Want proof? Survey the league and you’ll find that most – if not all – contenders have an elite small forward – Milwaukee, Los Angeles (both), Boston, Miami, Toronto.
But the list of can’t miss small forward prospects feels smaller than usual. Scanning the numerous legitimate mock drafts (including our own by Steve Kyler), it becomes apparent that we lack a consensus on which small forwards will be selected (and in what order) after the top 3 or 4. Can any of them grow into a star? Maybe. Maybe not. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s identify what the top few bring to the table.
Deni Avdija, Israel – 19 years old
Avdija is a relatively well-rounded prospect who’s played professionally since he was 16. He boasts good height (6-foot-9) and uses it effectively to shoot over and pass around opposing defenses. Further, Avdija is an exceptional playmaker and he’s incredibly confident, enabling him to take chances many players would be apprehensive trying. Avdija is a high-IQ player. And what’s more, he’s a surprisingly strong defender. His height and above-average athleticism allow him to block shots, and he’s more physical than you’d expect him to be.
But there are drawbacks to Avdija, too. His main issue is around shooting. Avdija shot only 28% in the EuroLeague last season, and he shot only 60% from the free-throw line. Further, while he’s a decent athlete, he’ll struggle to secure a role in the NBA. He’s going to need to add speed to stay with modern wings, and he’ll also have to bulk up to bang with power forwards.
Still, Avdija’s upside is alluring. He’s only 19, and his smarts, confidence and grittiness should provide him cover for much of his rookie season. Avdija should be the first small forward off of the board.
Isaac Okoro, Auburn – 19 years old
Avdija might be the flashier name currently, but Okoro will give him a run for his money in terms of which small forward is first off the board. Okoro is built like a traditional NBA wing; he’s 6-foot-6 with good strength packed in his muscular frame (215 lbs). Okoro finishes well around the rim and he converts well through contact. He’s an exceptional athlete who excels catching the ball on the move. Like Avdija, Okoro has the poise and composure of a more experienced player. Also, like Avdija, Okoro looked the part of a high IQ player in his lone season at Auburn.
And while all that is great, the main allure of Okoro is his defense. He’s a fairly advanced defender given his age, and his athleticism and timing make him an effective weak side help defender.
While Okoro’s raw abilities are exquisite, his refined offensive skills leave something to be desired. Okoro shot 28 percent on three-point field goals and he struggled from the free-throw line (67.2 percent). His mid-range jump shot also needs work, and he struggles in isolation situations.
If Okoro can hone his offensive game, he could grow into an All-Star. He has the ability to guard multiple positions, and his strength and athleticism give him a leg up on most prospects. But even if he doesn’t become an All-Star, he possesses a fairly high floor given his defensive abilities — and the guy definitely fills the state sheet (12.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, .9 steals and .9 blocks). He has lockdown defender potential and he’ll put his stamp on the game beginning on night one.
Devin Vassell, Florida State – 20 years old
Vassell played two seasons at Florida State, but he came into his own in his Sophomore season. He averaged 12.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. He shot a more than respectable 41.5% on three-point attempts, and he demonstrated a strong stroke from the free-throw line (73.8 percent) and on two-point field goal attempts (53.2).
Vassell is an extremely athletic leaper, who can rise up for a highlight dunk and sprint down the floor with ease. He has good body control and demonstrated a strong mid-range game, especially his step-back jump shot. But Vassell must generate more free throws through decisive moves to the hoop, which would be bolstered by a more muscular frame. Additionally, he must improve his ball-handling to get more from isolations.
Vassell will have an adjustment period in terms of scoring the ball at the next level. Fortunately, his defense and shooting should get him by. If he can bulk up and improve his handling, Vassell could grow into a serious player.
Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt – 20 years old
Nesmith probably has a lower floor than any of the other top small forward prospects given that he’ll be 21 by the draft. Still, he looked quite good in his Junior year, averaging 23 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game on a scorching 52.2 percent shooting from deep. Nesmith is an incredibly gifted shooter who has impressive range. His ability to catch-and-shoot and create space with fakes makes him a promising prospect – for the right team.
Nesmith is a high IQ player who uses his smarts on the defensive end. He’s also quite strong, can get buckets in the open floor and demonstrates above average ball-handling skills, as long as he’s not taking the ball to the hoop.
But there are inherent limitations in Nesmith’s game. He’s doesn’t create for his teammates too effectively and he turns the ball over more frequently than one would like with. Further, Nesmith is plagued by robotic movements that limit his athleticism. His ball-handling breaks down when taking the ball to the rack – something he’ll certainly have to work on in the NBA if he wants to be a versatile scoring threat against the bigger and stronger competition.
Still, Nesmith’s positives give him an excellent chance at being selected in the first round. His range alone will intrigue teams in need of a shooter.
Saddiq Bey, Villanova – 21 years old
Jaden McDaniels, Washington – 19 years old
Robert Woodard II, Mississippi State – 20 years old
With the uncertainty around small forward prospects, expect to see a revolving door of names enter the discussion after the first four wing prospects are off the board prior to Nov. 16 – assuming the draft is held then. But regardless of how you have them ranked, all of the aforementioned prospects have question marks. But all have had far more time to improve than they would have in years’ past. Let’s hope that shows come next season.