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NBA AM: How Mock Drafts Have Changed

Early mock drafts are fun, but even more fun is seeing how much things have changed in 18 months.

Joel Brigham

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How the Draft Picture Has Changed

The earliest mock drafts are often released almost two full years before the actual draft takes place. Considering how many of each year’s top prospects are one-and-done studs, these early mocks come out when the most notable players are still seniors in high school, which obviously leads to some early speculation that looks silly 18-24 months later when real life catches up to the some of the guesswork by even the business’ most esteemed draft experts.

While we here at Basketball Insiders publish our fair share of mocks over the course of the year, the good people at DraftExpress typically are the first to publish any sort of in-depth mock draft, and their first shot at the 2016 NBA Draft hit the web for the first time in September of 2014. Steve Kyler’s mock draft on-site here came out just this past October, about a month before the NCAA regular season got underway and any of these guys had played a single game.

Both sites got a lot of things right, but as is the case with these sorts of super-early predictions, a lot has changed.

March Madness is just around the corner, and as we all know there’s a lot that can happen both there and at that NBA Draft Combine later this spring that can change teams’ minds. But at this point, while the NCAA regular season heads toward its conclusion, we’re starting to get a sense of how the draft picture is going to shape out within a certain margin of error.

Seeing that picture round out makes it all the more interesting to have a gander at those earlier mock drafts that, while spot-on in regard to certain prospects, completely missed the boat on some others. The following is a look at the biggest changes between what experts thought would happen with this draft class and what actually appears to be shaping up a few months away from the draft itself:

Skal Labissiere’s Draft Stock Tumbles

Leading up to the 2015-16 college basketball season, there was an expectation that top prospects Ben Simmons and Labissiere would create considerable headaches for whatever NBA GM ended up with the top pick in this upcoming draft because both were viewed as elite, can’t-miss prospects. Now, all these months later, Simmons is being compared to LeBron James and Labissiere looks like he’ll be lucky to even be selected in the lottery.

Already 7’0 and unbelievably athletic, Labissiere has been muscled around all season as a member of the Kentucky Wildcats, and his poor rebounding numbers are a testament to his inability to establish himself as a presence in the paint. His numbers are even worse against top-50 teams than they are against the worse ones, and while he’s showed more than enough promise in terms of his defensive efficiency, he looks absolutely lost on offense more often than not. His instincts on that end are, so far, not very good.

Assuming he still declares for the draft this year (and he probably will), Labissiere is still a likely first-round pick based on athleticism and potential alone, but his actual play this year has been far from elite, and that’s not just because he plays for a loaded Kentucky team.

Brandon Ingram Establishes Himself as No. 2

While Ingram has been considered a top-five pick in this upcoming draft pretty much every step of the way, he has legitimately established himself as the second-best player in this draft, and there are some experts starting to wonder whether he should actually be getting more consideration as the No. 1 overall selection ahead of Simmons.

As ESPN’s Kevin Pelton points out, Ingram actually had a higher wins above replacement player projection for part of this season, and his skill set as a huge 6’10 shooter with range makes him an invaluable asset in today’s NBA. He’s also almost a year younger than Simmons (and several other prospects in this class), potentially giving him more time to develop and more elite years in the league.

But frankly, no one is taking Ingram over Simmons, despite the flashes of top-pick potential this year, but it’s also starting to look like nobody is taking anybody over Ingram at No. 2. At this point, that looks like his floor in the 2016 NBA Draft.

Malik Newman Goes From Top-5 to Second Round

Coming out of high school, Newman was one of the top five recruits of his class, which meant that the slashing scorer entered Mississippi State with big dreams of becoming a top-five draft selection the following June. A combination of inefficiency on offense and a few nagging injuries, however, has started to drop him out of first-round consideration, making it more likely that he’ll return to college for a sophomore year than accept such an uncertain NBA fate.

Newman is a scorer, but he just hasn’t shown the ability to create at the college level. That’s the kind of thing that worries NBA scouts and pushes a draft stock downward. Currently fighting a nagging back injury, Newman hasn’t even been given much of an opportunity to turn things around for himself. One thing’s for certain: he might not even be selected in the first-round this year, let alone the top five, so an extra year of seasoning could be in the books for him.

Buddy Hield’s Meteoric Rise

One thing nobody will argue with: Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield is one of the most entertaining players in college basketball right now. As a 6’4 senior, he doesn’t offer quite the same promise as some of the other players being considered around the 10-15 pick range in the draft, but he is having one of the more notable out-of-nowhere seasons in college basketball right now and generating a lot of buzz for himself in the process.

No mock draft from a year or two ago featured Hield anywhere on it unless it was deep into the second round, but now he’s shooting threes at an elite clip, which is a perfect skill to develop ahead of entering a league where few things are valued more.

Hield works his butt off and has proven his maturity and leadership over the course of this season in Oklahoma. That, combined with his actual numbers, have made him an intriguing player for middle-to-late lottery teams in need of a shooter. Nobody has risen more in the last six months than Hield.

Buying Into the Luwawu Hype

Outside of Dragan Bender, who generally has been labeled the top Euro player in this draft class, French prospect Timothe Luwawu has come into his own as one of the most intriguing international kids available this year. Currently playing for Mega Leks in Serbia, the same team that brought up Nikola Jokic, Luwawu has transformed into the sort of two-way wing that NBA teams salivate over. He’s tall (6’7) with a massive wingspan (6’11) and he offers both athleticism and shooting ability, according to DX’s Jonathan Givony. Defensively, he can guard four positions well and has the sort of quick hands that help make the Mega Leks defense so formidable.

He’s 20 years old and didn’t gain much traction with scouts a year ago when he first entered his name for draft consideration. His move to the Adriatic League this season has massively improved his stock, though, which is why it looks like he could be a first-round pick (and maybe even a lottery selection).

Calming Down on Diallo

Because of some questions about his high school transcript, Kansas freshman Cheick Diallo was forced to sit out the first five games of this season, which turned out to be a huge problem for a really talented kid that just hasn’t been able to carve out a role for himself on Bill Self’s loaded Jayhawks roster since.

Diallo, the former No. 7 overall prospect in the country, is long, quick and talented, especially defensively. But he hasn’t gotten the playing time at Kansas to help him stand out as a potential lottery pick, playing more than 20 minutes just once this season. Early mock drafts had him as a borderline lottery pick or better, but now he’s fallen into the late first round or early second round, with his seemingly limitless potential still serving as his strongest selling point.

Perry Ellis (29+ MPG) graduates this year, so minutes are in theory opening up for the Kansas frontcourt moving forward. Another year at school might be the best bet for Diallo at this point, because he still has a ton to prove before teams consider him as a sure-thing first-round selection, let alone a lottery possibility.

Kentucky Proves Fatal for Isaiah Briscoe

When Isaiah Briscoe, a former McDonald’s All-American with charisma for days, made the decision to attend the University of Kentucky, he did so with the understanding that UK would be the machine that catapulted him into the first-round of the NBA draft after just one season in the NCAA.

He probably thought at the time of declaring that he’d prove valuable enough in a crowded point guard rotation to get the minutes he needed to make his point, but thanks to massive years from Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray, that just hasn’t been the case. Scouts can forgive a lot in terms of playing time and production when it comes to Kentucky players, but Briscoe will have a big decision to make this spring. Should he declare despite a less-than-stellar freshman year or come back next season when those point guard minutes should be all his?

Once a sure-thing mid-first rounder, Briscoe now looks like a second-round pick with a tough decision to make about his future.

*****

By no means does any of this mean that the draft picture is settled. A strong tournament or impressive combine showing could turn things around for a few of these bubble guys, but the point is that from the time we all start looking at mock drafts to the time that the mock drafts actually start carrying some credence, a lot can happen. Plenty of things change even after these guys are ranked appropriately and drafted onto NBA teams. Nothing is a given in this league, obviously, but it never stops being interesting watching how expectations shift and players respond.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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NBA Daily: Biggest Disappointments — Central Division

Basketball Insiders’ Biggest Disappointments series continues as Drew Mays explores the struggles of the Central Division.

Drew Mays

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Basketball Insiders has looked at some of the biggest surprises and disappointments to start the new season. And, now, four weeks in, the shift in perception from “The sample size is too small” to “Maybe this is just who this team is” has begun. While there is plenty of time left to justify the former, the latter has looked far more truthful for much of the disappointments in the NBA’s Central Division.

Confused in Chicago

The Chicago Bulls’ postseason hopes were widely known. And it wasn’t just speculation – the Bulls themselves talked playoffs from media day until the beginning of the season. But, sitting at 4-9, each passing game bears a striking resemblance to last year’s 22-60 team, one that was talented but unable to sustain any consistency.

The numbers paint Chicago’s struggles in an even more confusing light. Per Cleaning the Glass, the Bulls take a slightly above-average number of threes and have the most rim attempts in the league. They’ve shied away from the mid-range, while they get to the free throw line and turn the ball over at standard — not great but not terrible — rates. The offense must be clicking, right?

Wrong. Chicago sits at 28th in points per 100 possessions (they’re 14th in points per 100 defensively). Their half-court offense has been stagnant, with a lot of side-to-side action but nothing much in the way of getting to the basket. The league-high rim attempt percentage is clouded by poor decision-making in the paint, where the Bulls often force shots or flat-out miss kick out opportunities.

Lauri Markkanen, arguably Chicago’s most important player, has yet to get going. He’s averaging 14.5 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, but he’s shot just 37.7 percent from the field and 28.2 from deep. He’s scored over 20 points only once, on opening night in Charlotte.

There is reason for optimism. Markkanen is getting good looks; he should start hitting them eventually. Wendell Carter has been excellent in the middle. The Bulls’ shot chart lends itself to success. Outside of Milwaukee, the rest of the division is vulnerable. Chicago held their own against the Bucks and even the league-leading Lakers, controlling much of the game versus the latter. If not for some fourth quarter collapses, the Bulls might have a winning record.

There’s still time to turn it around. But thus far, 2019-20 has been a disappointment in Chicago.

The Last Two for Cleveland

 The Cleveland Cavaliers are frisky!

They’ve beaten two division foes in Chicago and the Indiana Pacers, and they’ve held their own in games against the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics over the last two weeks.

Kevin Love and Tristian Thompson are both averaging double-doubles. Collin Sexton has upped his scoring and lowered his turnovers this season. Darius Garland has shown some serious flashes as a young rookie.

Defense is the toughest thing to learn in the NBA. Younger teams are usually really bad on defense – especially teams with a starting backcourt made up of a sophomore and a rookie. However, Cleveland has managed to remain in the middle of the pack on defense, ranking 15th in points allowed per 100 despite being in the bottom third in effective field goal percentage allowed.

They’re even 16th in the league in Basketball Reference’s adjusted net rating, which estimates a team’s point differential every 100 possessions adjusted for strength of opponent. There is a lot to be excited about for the future.

However, after defeating the Knicks and losing by one to the aforementioned 76ers, Cleveland was steamrolled in both first halves against the HEAT and the 76ers at home. They were outscored by 48 in the two halves, looked utterly outclassed and outmatched and, ultimately, lost by 11 and 19, respectively.

Growing pains were expected, especially for the young backcourt. And even after an encouraging start, two straight blowouts where the Cavaliers never had a chance is still disappointing.

The bad news with Cleveland is the same as the good news: they still have a lot of growing to do.

Detroit’s Free Fall

After starting off the season 4-5 (about what we’d expect from the perennially middling team), the Detroit Pistons have gone cold.

Their most recent loss was on Friday – Blake Griffin needed 19 shots to get to 19 points, Derrick Rose turned the ball over six times, and the Pistons fell 109-106 to Charlotte, dropping them to 4-9 on the year.

The disappointing thing for the Pistons has surprisingly been their defense. Detroit’s usual pattern has been to plod on offense and use their top-10 defense to put them in a position to win. But the script has flipped this year – Detroit ranks 9th in points per 100 possessions and 3rd in team effective field goal percentage, but they’re just 26th and 28th in those respective categories on defense.

Their biggest offensive struggle has been turnovers. Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond, and Derrick Rose are averaging almost 12 per game between the three of them, leading to Detroit’s 28th ranked turnover percentage.

The other problem for Detroit is that they’ve faced a relatively easy schedule thus far. That SOS is middle of the pack the rest of the way. If they plan on returning to the postseason in 2020, they’ll need to end this losing streak sooner rather than later.

Khris Middleton’s Left Leg

Khris Middleton is out for the next several weeks after suffering a left thigh contusion November 10 in Oklahoma City. He was averaging 18.5 points and 5.3 rebounds on a career-best 59.9 true shooting percentage before the injury.

Milwaukee cruised to a 2-0 record last week without their second banana, defeating both Chicago and Indiana. The Bucks will have to navigate at least the rest of November with Giannis and Eric Bledsoe as the only real playmakers on the roster.

Luckily, they’re built for this – questions continue to surround Milwaukee as to whether Khris Middleton as the complement to Giannis is even enough to win the East – the bench will be able to fill in around Giannis. All of the wings will see increased minutes, and Bledsoe will be tasked with a higher usage rate.

Any time your second-best player goes down, it’s disappointing. But Milwaukee has the system in place to continue winning, even without Middleton.

Again, it’s still early for all of these teams. They have played just 13, 12, 13 and 12 games each. But as 13 moves towards 20 and 25 games in the coming weeks, these disappointments are no longer early struggles – they are identities, and what the team may be left with for the rest of the season.

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Melo A Match For Offense-Starved Portland

The Trail Blazers’ problems are widespread on defense, but Carmelo Anthony represents an offensive fix more than anything else. Douglas Farmer writes.

Douglas Farmer

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The Portland Trail Blazers did not have a choice.

With Jusuf Nurkić, Zach Collins and Pau Gasol all sidelined by injury, and with Moe Harkless now in Los Angeles and Al-Farouq Aminu in Orlando, the Trail Blazers had nowhere else to turn.

Portland had to call Carmelo Anthony.

The Blazers do not even have a G League affiliate to raid, instead shipping specific players back-and-forth to the Texas Legends, the Dallas Mavericks’ affiliate, this season.

This is what it took for the future first-ballot Hall of Famer to find himself on a roster. Two young stars, Nurkić and Collins, needed to be sidelined for months by leg and shoulder injuries, respectively. A veteran, Gasol, needed to be sidelined by his own foot injury, in addition to years of mileage. A $145 million salary sheet needed to prevent Portland from stocking its bench with suitable forwards during the offseason.

And the options on its bench had to struggle immensely on both ends of the floor, torpedoing a season with title hopes into one that elicits headlines like “Is This Damian Lillard’s Lost Season?

More than an eventual criticism of Anthony’s contributing prospects, this is a harsh reality of the Blazers’ supporting options as constituted.

Skal Labissière has spent three years in the NBA without offering much reason to think he could be a reliable resource off the bench now, and his 49.0 effective field goal percentage fits that past evidence.

Anthony Tolliver has gone from being a three-point specialist to a three-point liability, currently hitting 24.2 percent of his shots from deep. Mario Hezonja is, well, Mario Hezonja. This year that means he is shooting 33.3 percent from 2-point range. Lastly, Rodney Hood simply cannot bang with power forwards while carrying only 208 pounds on his 6-foot-8 frame.

Portland has no forward option better than Carmelo Anthony at this point, so it had no choice but to call him despite his year off of active rosters. The team needs someone to take the pressure off Lillard and CJ McCollum. As well as Anfernee Simons has played — and the second-year guard has, averaging 19.3 points per 36 minutes with a 55.9 effective field goal percentage — relying on him comes at the expense of Lillard and McCollum, not in conjunction with them.

Someone needs to take the defensive focus away from the Blazers’ backcourt duo, at least nominally. That was, in some respects, supposed to be Tolliver. When he could shoot from deep, a defender at least had to stay near him, giving Lillard and McCollum space to operate. With that ability seemingly stolen away by Space Jam’s Monstars, Tolliver’s defender now freely ranges away from him.

In theory, and that theory will not be proven until Tuesday at the New Orleans Pelicans or Thursday at the Milwaukee Bucks — after Anthony passes his physical — Anthony can at least knock down open shots from deep. Even as his career began to spiral, he could always shoot. In his final three seasons, Anthony shot 35.6 percent from 3, including 32.8 percent in his aborted Houston Rockets stint in 2018.

The concerns around bringing in Anthony, even on a non-guaranteed contract, come on defense. The concerns around Portland’s 5-8 start also hinge on defense, where it ranks No. 19 in the league with a 109.3 defensive rating, as of Monday morning.

In Anthony’s 10 games with the Rockets to start last season, they were outscored by 63 points with him on the court, even as he averaged 13.4 points per game. In those 294 minutes, Houston’s defensive rating was 112.2.

Some of that obviously stemmed from other issues with the Rockets then dealing with their own personnel problems — as well as newly-implemented, and soon-abandoned schemes. But some of it was undeniably because of Anthony, never exactly known as a defensive ace.

Maybe in that respect, Anthony fits the Blazers both in need and in ethos. Portland’s appearance in the Western Conference Finals did not come from outstanding defense; it relied upon Enes “Can’t Play Him” Kanter, after all. The Lillard and McCollum era has long been defined by offensive deluges surrounding moments of defensive worry.

Anthony should fit that perfectly, if he chooses to. Shooting strokes are one of the last skills lost with age. Even at 35, he should still demand attention in that respect. That alone will be an improvement for the Blazers and make life a bit easier for Lillard and McCollum.

A defensive rating of 109.3 can be survived when the offensive rating is third in the league at 113.7, as Portland enjoyed last season, part of the recipe that produced a 53-29 record. It cannot be survived when the offensive rating is No. 13 at 108.4, where the Blazers sit currently in that category.

Portland did not call one of the greatest individual scorers in league history to fix its defense.

The Blazers have no choice but to hope Carmelo Anthony can aid their offense.

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NBA Daily: Walton Working Smart In Attempt To Land Role With Clippers

David Yapkowitz speaks with Los Angeles Clippers point guard Derrick Walton about his different experiences around the NBA and how playing overseas helped provide him with wisdom necessary to his growth.

David Yapkowitz

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Every season, multiple players come into NBA training camps with non-guaranteed contracts. For many of these players, being cut is just a mere formality. Most teams already have their rosters set, and these players are little more than practice bodies or potential G League assignees.

But for some of these players, a coveted NBA roster spot is an actual possibility. Some teams have a spot or two open, and the few players whose contracts aren’t guaranteed battle it out in training camp for the right to remain on the team going into the regular season.

Derrick Walton Jr. is no stranger to that battle. Following a strong four years at Michigan in which he was named the Big Ten Tournament Most Outstanding Player his senior year; he went undrafted in the 2017 NBA Draft.

He played with the Orlando Magic that year in summer league and had an impressive outing to the tune of 10 points, 3.5 assists, and 2.5 rebounds per game while shooting 46.9 percent from the field and 50 percent from three-point range. Despite needing some help at point guard, the Magic opted to look elsewhere.

After spending the 2017-18 season with the Miami HEAT on a two-way contract, Walton found himself again looking for a team at the end of that season. He was in camp with the Chicago Bulls last year, but was ultimately cut during preseason.

This year, he came into camp with the Los Angeles Clippers on an Exhibit 10 contract, meaning he was likely destined for the G League. He had a decent showing in the preseason with 7 points , 3 assists and 1.6 rebounds per game. The Clippers opted to convert his contract to a one-year, non-guaranteed deal, essentially solidifying his place on the opening night roster.

Having been through this before, it wasn’t like there was anything particularly different for Walton.

“It was pretty normal to me, just competing every day for the most part,” Walton told Basketball Insiders. “Nothing out of the extreme ordinary, I was just trying to pick up on things as fast as possible and implement them in games for the most part.”

Heading into the season, the Clippers were a little bit thin at point guard. Patrick Beverley was the incumbent starter, with Lou Williams capable of sliding over if need be. But after that, the point was where the Clippers didn’t have as much depth as they did elsewhere.

That appeared to leave a potential opening for Walton to grab the 15th and final roster spot. Despite the seeming need for the Clippers to strengthen their point guard corps a little bit, Walton wasn’t always sure that he had a good shot at making the team.

“It wouldn’t be truthful for me to say yeah, but I’m always silently confident about everything,” Walton told Basketball Insiders. “Nothing is ever for sure until it actually happens, so I would be lying if I said yeah. Now I’m just ready to build on everything for the most part.”

Although Walton initially started his NBA career with the Magic, it was the HEAT that gave him his first real shot in the NBA. Miami has had a history of success with undrafted players, including Walton’s current Clippers teammate Rodney McGruder. While Walton was on a two-way contract, injuries to Miami’s rotation during the 2017-18 season forced him into some immediate action.

He did spend a good portion of that season with the Sioux Falls Skyforce, the HEAT’s G League affiliate, but he was around the team enough to pick some things up here and there. He saw playing time in a total of 16 games in Miami and shot 41.2 percent from the three-point line. Miami ended up extending a qualifying offer that summer, making him an unrestricted free agent, but ultimately withdrew the offer.

The HEAT have been something of a standard-bearer in the NBA for being a professional organization, and Walton definitely learned some things that have helped in his professional career.

“I think just being a professional about everything overall. It’s always being ready,” Walton told Basketball Insiders. “Working hard is always the status quo at this level, but I think working smart and being a professional for the most part is what I learned.”

This past season after being cut by the Bulls, Walton opted for something a little bit different. He headed overseas and joined Zalgiris Kaunas in the Lithuanian Basketball League. He had some success and put up 8.4 points and 4.4 assists per game while in Lithuania, but left the team this past February and joined Alba Berlin in the EuroLeague.

Walton had heard stories about playing overseas and the possible hardships that may have come with it. But he didn’t quite understand it until he experienced it in person. It helped him grow as both a player and a person and helped toughen him up.

“I think it made me grow up a little faster. Overseas, I got to see some things, experience some things that you can only experience in person. Word of mouth can’t make you experience it,” Walton told Basketball Insiders. “Going through that type of stuff, I feel like it gave me a lot of wisdom overall. I feel really battle-tested like nothing fazes me at this point.”

And now, Walton is back stateside trying to carve out a role with the Clippers. He’s already been assigned to their G League affiliate, the Agua Caliente Clippers, but was recently recalled due to injuries to Kawhi Leonard and Patrick Beverley. In a win over the Atlanta Hawks, Walton played seven minutes and hit his only shot, a three-pointer.

Barring any major injuries, it’s unlikely that Walton sees much playing time with the Clippers this season. But in any case, he’s staying ready and is confident in what he can bring to the team should his number be called at some point.

“I think I can space the floor of course. I can make big plays and be like a coach on the floor,” Walton told Basketball Insiders. “Overall, just be a pest defensively and just try to make an impact on the court anyway possible, I’m one of those guys.”

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