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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: Rajon Rondo Brings Leadership, Playmaking to Clippers

The Los Angeles Clippers made a big trade deadline move last month when they shipped out locker room favorite and perennial Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Rajon Rondo.

David Yapkowitz

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The Los Angeles Clippers made a big trade deadline move last month when they shipped out locker room favorite and perennial Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Rajon Rondo.

The Clippers have had one of the most efficient offenses in the NBA this season, but even so, they have had times where the offense seemingly stalls and they can’t seem to generate easing scoring opportunities especially late in games.

The calls for a true point guard only got louder after those games and the team finally gave in and rolled the dice on one of the league’s better playmakers, especially come playoff time. Williams has been a good playmaker himself throughout his career and he was averaging 3.4 assists per game prior to the trade.

But in Rondo, the Clippers get a premier playmaker and floor leader who has won two championships and whom the Lakers often closed games with last year in the postseason. Rondo made his Clippers debut on Easter Sunday in the team’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers and although his numbers didn’t jump off the stat sheet (2 points, 1 rebound, 3 assists and 4 turnovers in 12 minutes of play), he played with a lot of energy and pushed the pace well, something the Clippers haven’t always been so good at this season.

After the game, Rondo summed up what his role on the team is going to be quite simply.

“Just go out there and try and lead by example,” Rondo said. “I don’t like to talk as much without showing out on the court for my teammates.”

Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue was a little more effusive in his thoughts on how Rondo will fit in on the team and how much better they will be with his addition. The Clippers have spoken all season long about needing to push the ball in transition and try and generate easy scoring opportunities on the break and that’s something Lue noticed right away with Rondo.

“You could just tell his pace brings a different something to our team and offensively he’s getting the outlet close to half court before the first pass is made. That generates pace for us and we need that,” Lue said. “As slow as we run sometimes, it’s probably going to have to be something that we adjust to, but I think he makes the game easier. When you get out and run in transition, a lot of teams can’t get back and get a match so we will get open shots. With him generating the pace, that’s going to be good for us.”

One area in particular that the team is hoping Rondo can help with is taking some of the ball-handling pressure off of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Both players have really stepped up in transitioning to primary ball-handling roles, something they haven’t had to do thus far in their careers.

They’re both averaging career-highs in assists at 5.0 and 5.4 respectively and have done well moving the ball around and getting good shots throughout the game for themselves and their teammates. But there have been times when the ball stagnates a bit and both Leonard and George end up taking tough contested shots late in the game.

With Rondo on board, the Clippers have a player that will keep the ball moving and can help get both of them easy looks down the stretch, something he did to perfection last year with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

“Just trying to get our two main guys the ball in easier spots as far as them having to work so hard to get the ball against a set defense,” Rondo said. “If we are able to create stops to get on the break, my job is to advance the ball and let those guys attack one-on-one before the defense is set.”

In his first game playing alongside Rondo, George immediately saw the benefits and how Rondo will take pressure off of both him and Leonard.

“You just see his intangibles, you see he just sees plays happening,” George said. “I thought it just made the game easier getting it up to him, letting him push the ball, letting him initiate instead of a lot of times myself and Kawhi doing it. We got a guy that can do it, it’s just going to make the game easier for us.”

A team’s point guard is often an extension of the head coach on the court and Rondo certainly has been that throughout his career. He’s been a vocal leader on the court and in the locker room and his stint with the Dallas Mavericks notwithstanding, he’s been a very positive influence wherever he’s been.

He’s looking forward to working alongside Lue and doing his best to implement Lue’s schemes on the court both offensively and defensively.

“Just try to be on the same page as my coach. Not too much as me trying to outsmart my opponents, which at all times I want to be two steps ahead of,” Rondo said. “I want to stay afloat with my teammates as well and be on the same page as them and be an extension of [Tyronn Lue] on the court.”

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NBA Western Conference Bright Future Watch

The Western Conference is loaded with talent this year, but who will be the teams that dominate it in the future? Zach Dupont takes a look at which teams have the brightest future in the Western Conference.

Zach Dupont

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It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of the current season as we head towards the climax of a great race for the Western Conference title. But there are already reasons to look past this year and get excited about the teams who could dominate the Western Conference past 2020-21.

Who are the teams that could strike next year? And who has set themselves up to have a bright future in the Western Conference?

Denver Nuggets

The Denver Nuggets are primed to become a force in the Western Conference for years to come and could easily be the favorites heading into next year. The Nuggets’ four best players, Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon, are all under contract for next season, and all of them are younger than 26-years-old. Jokic has proved himself to be one of the best players in the NBA over the past few seasons and has emerged as a favorite for the MVP award this year. In 2020-21, Jokic is averaging 26.3 points, 10.9 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game while shooting 57 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three. Jokic’s wingman Murray is no slouch either, posting the best numbers of his career with 21.3 points per game on 48 percent shooting and 41.2 percent shooting from three. Combine Jokic’s MVP play and Murray’s high-end scoring ability with the shooting and potential of Porter Jr., and the defensive ability of Gordon and the Nuggets emerge as a clear threat in the Western Conference.

The Nuggets also won’t be lacking for depth next year like many of their rivals. Monte Morris is locked up for the next few seasons, and Will Barton and JaMychal Green have player options for next season that they could easily accept. The Nuggets can also keep Facundo Campazzo and P.J. Dozier for next season, as both are on non-guaranteed contracts. There are also younger players on the roster who have shown some promise and could be a factor next season. Zeke Nnaji showed potential as a stretch four in limited showings this year, and Bol Bol is still an exciting talent. Denver will even have some money to play with in free agency this offseason, although the looming extension they will owe Porter Jr. will make options limited. Paul Millsap will no longer be on the books at near $15 million a year, and if either Barton or Green decided to decline their player options, that would give the Nuggets more cap flexibility.

The Nuggets have the most intriguing mix of high-end talent and youth in the west, and while they’re already a threat this season, next season, they may be the favorites.

Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies may not be where Denver is as a team now, but long-term, they are equally as exciting. The Grizzlies are loaded with young talent up and down the roster, and they already have one of their stars of the future. Ja Morant has been a sensation since entering the league last season, and with another year of experience under his belt, the league should be worried about the Grizzlies’ potential. Morant is averaging 18.8 points and 7.4 assists per game in his sophomore campaign. Morant is joined by fellow youngster Jaren Jackson Jr., a two-way big with loads of potential. Jackson has yet to see the floor this year, but he showed the ability to protect the rim like an elite defender and knock down a high volume of three-pointers in his first two seasons of action.

The Grizzlies core may be focused around Morant and Jackson, but what makes Memphis more exciting than other teams out west is the roster’s pure volume of prospects. Brandon Clarke was a steal in the 2019 NBA Draft and has already shown to be a great center who can impact the game on both offense and defense, De’Anthony Melton is one of the league’s most underappreciated defensive players at just 22-years-old and Desmond Bane is already knocking down over 45 percent of his three-point attempts in his rookie season. From top to bottom, Memphis has exciting young talent. Together with their established talent like Dillon Brooks and Jonas Valanciunas, you’ve got a team primed to compete in the Western Conference in 2021-22.

Memphis may not be a title favorite next year, but their ability to acquire talented youth will only make them better and better every season.

New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans have some major decisions to make this offseason, but they are a team to watch out west next year no matter what they do. New Orleans has maybe the most exciting young talent in the NBA in Zion Williamson, who has emerged as one of the most efficient and dangerous scorers in the league this season. Williamson is putting up 26.3 points per game this season on an absurd 62 percent shooting and 66 percent true shooting. At just 20-years-old Williamson is already an All-Star, and he will inevitably improve over the next few seasons with his ceiling being as high as anyone’s in the NBA. New Orleans has managed to pair Williamson with another All-Star level player in Brandon Ingram, who has averaged nearly 24 points per game in each of the past two seasons. The Pelicans’ big decision this offseason will be what to do with their point guard, Lonzo Ball. Ball has always been a talented distributor and defender since entering the league, but this year he has taken a step forward as a scorer, averaging a career-best 14.5 points per game and 38.4 percent shooting from three. Ball is set to be a restricted free agent this offseason, and it’s not a given that he will be back next year.

New Orleans already has a core to build around, and they have young depth pieces to add to the already exciting potential of the roster. Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kira Lewis are a pair of young point guards who have shown a lot of potential and could fill in nicely for Ball if he departs this summer. Alexander-Walker is putting up more than 10 points per game in his sophomore campaign, and he has shown glimpses of being a defender and shooter in the same mold as Ball. Lewis is a speedy rookie out of Alabama who has found playing time hard to come by, but if either Ball or Eric Bledsoe find themselves not in New Orleans next year, he has showcased skills that could put him in the conversation for major minutes.

If Zion takes another step next year, and the whole team cleans it up defensively, the Pelicans could become serious players in the Western Conference.

Los Angeles Lakers

The Los Angeles Lakers may not be full of young players with high-end potential like other teams on this list, but they still represent the West’s most dangerous threat when healthy. Every season the question “when will he finally slow down” is asked about LeBron James, and every season LeBron shows he is still one of the most dominant players in the NBA. LeBron Is 36-years-old, and this season he has put up 25.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game and, before getting injured a few weeks ago, was one of the favorites for the MVP award. LeBron’s running mate, Anthony Davis, is equally dangerous and could be considered the NBA’s best two-way player. The Lakers have both Davis and LeBron locked in for next season, and the presence of those two players alone makes them a title threat in the west regardless of the team put around them.

One benefit of having superstars like LeBron and Davis is that it becomes much easier to sign role players. The Lakers will already have the services of Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Marc Gasol next season, and Montrezl Harrell has a $9.7 million player option for next season. But the draw of potentially winning a championship will bring the Lakers role players on cheaper contracts than they would have signed elsewhere, as evident by Gasol, Andre Drummond and Wesley Matthews’ contracts.

The Lakers may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of bright futures, but LeBron and Davis will keep the Lakers’ future bright for as long as they remain in LA.

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NBA Coach of the Year Watch – April 14

With the final quarter of the NBA season here, a few names have emerged as the favorites for Coach of the Year; who are they? And what are their chances of winning the award come the end of the season?

Zach Dupont

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The NBA season is hitting its final stretch, and teams are gearing up to make a run at the postseason. With the season nearing its conclusion, who is in the running for the NBA end-of-season awards are becoming clearer and clearer.

Today, Basketball Insiders will take a look at the four candidates that have become clear favorites for Coach of the Year and break down why they’re in the running.

Quin Snyder

The Utah Jazz’s Quin Snyder currently appears to be the favorite for the Coach of the Year award. Snyder has led the Jazz to the best record in the Western Conference and the NBA at an astounding 40-14. Snyder has become a favorite because he is doing this with nearly the same roster as last season, a team that went 44-28 and was the six seed in the Western Conference.

The Jazz have emerged as dominant on both offense and defense, holding the fourth-best defensive ranking and second-best offensive rating in the NBA. Snyder has been instrumental in the improvement of the young players on his roster. Donovan Mitchell is having the best season of his career, averaging 26.3 points and 5.3 assists per game and Rudy Gobert himself is one of the favorites to win the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award. He’s also managed to get top-tier production from Jordan Clarkson, who seems like a runaway favorite for Sixth Man of the Year, putting up 17.2 points per game in 51 bench appearances.

While there are other coaches with solid resumes, at this point, it’s Snyder’s award to lose. If the Jazz keep the foot to the throttle for the last quarter of the season and remain at the top of the NBA, it’s hard to see Snyder losing to anyone.

Monty Williams

The other person who has a good shot at winning the award is the coach of the NBA’s second-best team, Monty Williams. Williams – the coach of the Phoenix Suns – has had an equally impressive season as Snyder, leading the Suns to a 38-15 record, good for second in both the Western Conference and the NBA. Williams gains points because he is coaching an exceptionally young team; Devin Booker and Mikal Bridges are 24-years-old and Deandre Ayton is just 22. That’s a lot of wins for a team starting three players under 25 nearly every game.

Williams loses some points, however, due to the Suns just not having as impressive a statistical team. The Suns are behind the Jazz in both offensive and defensive rating, seventh in offense and fifth in defense. Both excellent marks, but not at the same level of excellence as Snyder’s Jazz. Williams also gets docked some points because, unlike the Jazz, the Suns made a major offseason pickup, grabbing veteran point guard Chris Paul from the Thunder. Paul’s presence has been a game-changer for Phoenix, and his play has elevated the games of all of his young teammates.

Williams has a real shot at winning Coach of the Year, but as of now, Snyder marginally has the edge. But there is still plenty of time left in the season, and Williams could snatch the award from Snyder if the Suns make a late push or the Jazz find themselves faltering.

Steve Nash

Steve Nash deserves a lot of credit for what he’s done in his first year as the Brooklyn Nets head coach. Nash has helped keep the Nets not only competitive but elite despite all three of James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving missing significant time this year. The Nets are second in the Eastern Conference with a record of 36-17 and are considered one of the favorites to win the NBA Championship, if healthy.

Despite Nash’s great work as a first-year head coach, he is a bit less of a favorite than both Williams and Snyder. The trio of Durant, Harden and Irving has a combined 27 All-Star appearances, 18 All-NBA appearances and two MVPs; excellence was the expectation for this group. Nash has done a great job keeping the Nets afloat despite injuries and many, many off-court dramas, but his roster alone compared to those of Williams and Snyder, makes it a touch more difficult for him to win the award. Nash is also at the helm of one of the worst defenses in the NBA, with the Nets clocking in at 25th in the league in defensive rating. While the Nets offense could very well be the best in the league, it’ll be difficult to win the award with a defense performing that poorly.

Nash is still a contender even if he isn’t at the same level as those listed above. Nash just needs things out of his control to happen to get him back in the running. If both the Jazz and Suns struggle down the stretch, and the Nets thrive, Nash could find himself winning Coach of the Year in his rookie season.

Doc Rivers

It’s been a hell of a renaissance for Philadelphia 76ers’ head coach Doc Rivers. Rivers had a tough stint with the Los Angeles Clippers, ending his seven-year run there with an embarrassing second-round playoff loss to the Denver Nuggets. Now in Philadelphia, Rivers has coached the 76ers to the best record in the Eastern Conference at 37-17. Rivers has turned the 76ers into a defensive juggernaut, rocking the second-best defensive rating in the NBA, a 107.2. Their defense is anchored by MVP candidate Joel Embiid and three-time All-Star Ben Simmons. Rivers has also gotten major contributions from Tobias Harris – who looked lost in his past few seasons in Philly – and former Dallas Maverick Seth Curry.

Rivers has done a great job helping turn around a team that looked like a mess just at the end of last season, but like Nash, he too falls a bit short of Snyder and Williams. Working against Rivers is the 76ers offense, which just hasn’t produced at the same level as both the Jazz and Suns. The 76ers have the 14th best offensive rating in the NBA of 112.2, while not bad, it’s also not good. Rivers also has a disadvantage through no fault of his own, having already won the award before and being an established name in the league for over a decade now, voters are just more likely to vote for the fresher names.

Rivers isn’t out of the race yet, and with a good push – and some help from other teams – Rivers could end up as the Coach of the Year come May. But, the 76ers will have to take a step forward on offense, or that will never become a reality.

 

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