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NBA Rookie Extensions: Sign Now or Sign Later?

Taking a look at the 2012 NBA draft class and where notable players will land in their early rookie extension negotiations.

Eric Saar

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It’s the NBA offseason, so there isn’t much basketball to discuss aside from some Team USA action. What is going on behind closed doors are the contract negotiations between players, their agents and the teams.

Between now and October 31st is the time for the rookie extensions to be signed for the 2012 draftees. The New Orleans Pelicans and the Portland Trail Blazers have already agreed to major extensions for Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard respectively, while other players going into their fourth season look for similar treatment from their organizations.

These players are going into the final years of their standard rookie contracts and if a player agrees to an extension, it would kick in after this upcoming year. If both sides don’t come to terms before (basically) the beginning of the season, then the player would become a restricted free agent as soon as the 2016 offseason begins.

Some of these players should be getting the max that their team can offer, like Davis and Lillard for example. Other players haven’t earned that with their production on the court and might agree to an extension below the max before the October 31st deadline.

Some other players are a bit trickier. Their value may be indeterminable at this point and the team doesn’t want to commit huge dollar amounts to them until they can improve with another year under their belt. So the teams might choose to let the player play out the final year of their rookie contract and then renegotiate when he is a restricted free agent (when the team is allowed to match any offer made to that player). In these scenarios, management can ascertain if the player has earned the big bucks or a smaller commitment.

Note: remember, max extensions are not created equal. Each max is tied to where that particular player was drafted and therefore fixes the starting place allowed on the following contract. It is also tied to a percentage of the cap for that season that is decided in July before that season. So all contract prices are estimates.

Max Out

Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons)

Drummond is probably the easiest of the players to gauge. Just pay the man. He’s productive, skilled and of course, very large. Drummond is due nearly $3.3 million this year. There is nothing murky here about his future… it’s bright. I mean, the numbers speak for themselves. 13.8 points per game primarily in the paint while relying on being fed the ball is pretty good. Also, 13.5 rebounds per game last year and nearly two blocks each game on average is quite good.

His PER (player efficiency rating that is somewhat comprehensive) comes in at 21.50, good for 23rd in the whole NBA, which is pretty good for someone who just turned 22 years old. He’s the centerpiece of the Pistons; just max him out as soon as you can Stan Van Gundy. The projected max for these rookie extensions from the 2012 draft is $20.8 million a year.

Jonas Valanciunas (Toronto Raptors)

The Raptors’ big man is sort of in the same boat as Drummond. While playing in an offense that doesn’t revolve around him nearly as much as Drummond’s does, the Lithuanian center averaged 12 points, 8.7 boards and 1.2 blocks per game with a PER of 20.60. He’s only 23 and is still improving, just like Drummond. Skilled big men like him are hard to find. While Valanciunas seems like less of a sure thing, Toronto should just max him out as soon as possible. He is making nearly $4.6 million this year, but should be maxed out. They just brought in DeMarre Carroll, should keep Kyle Lowry and let DeMar DeRozan go and bring in someone cheaper to replace him.

Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards)

While Beal isn’t a big man, he is very valuable and should be paid as such. He’s getting paid nearly $5.7 million this year, but should receive a max extension. He, along with running mate John Wall are quite a dynamic duo out on the court.

Beal averaged just more than 15 points per game and although his assist and rebound numbers are underwhelming you can’t undersell a 22-year-old with a great shooting stroke (40.9 percent from behind the arc last year) who can play defense and has great chemistry with your superstar. As long as Wizards retain enough room to potentially sign Kevin Durant in free agency next summer, they should max out Beal now.

Sign Now

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Charlotte Hornets)

Kidd-Gilchrist kicks off the tier of players that shouldn’t get maxed out on their rookie extensions. While he is about to turn 22, he is only an average player. He is a strong wing-defender, can jump passing lanes, score in the paint and rebound pretty well. Of course he could get better, but, at this point, he’s not a max extension player. Charlotte could of course wait and see how he develops and what his market is in restricted free agency, but it might be advantageous to lock down a cheaper deal in the next few months.

Kidd-Gilchrist should probably get something in the Al-Farouq Aminu ($30 million) to the Iman Shumpert/Danny Green ($40 million) range for his extension.

Dion Waiters (Oklahoma City Thunder)

Waiters should not get a max extension considering that, at this point, he’s a streaky, inefficient volume chucker. He’s not horrible, but not anywhere near a max player. Last season, he averaged just less than 12 points per game, two assists and 2.4 rebounds with a PER of 10.93 (15 is roughly league average). Those numbers don’t inspire confidence. Hopefully, he realizes that and can agree to a rookie extension with OKC soon so he can play for a contender for the foreseeable future and try to win a ring.

Waiters will probably get anywhere from a Will Barton ($10.6 million over three years) to Marco Belinelli ($19 million over three years) contract, but could conceivably hold out for Danny Green type contract.

Meyers Leonard (Portland Trailblazers)

With the huge exodus from Portland this offseason, Leonard will gain a much larger role with the Trail Blazers. The 7’1, 23-year-old is the backup center for Mason Plumlee, but hasn’t produced much at the pro level yet. He averaged 15 minutes a game last season and put up just 5.9 points, 4.5 rebounds and a PER of 14.85. He played at just about a league average level. We’ll see what happens with more usage and playing time. Both sides should get a less than max extension done soon, because he’s not worth the max. He gets the security of extra guaranteed years and if he outperforms the next few years, the team gets value.

Leonard could get a deal in the range of Kosta Koufos ($32.9 million over four years) to Thaddeus Young ($50 million over four years). He’ll probably land in the middle of that range, near $9-10 million a year annually.

Sign Later

Harrison Barnes (Golden State Warriors)

The Warriors won the title. Barnes started a lot of the year, but got bumped for Andre Iguodala in the Finals. His three-point percentage during the season was 40.5 percent, but dipped to 35.5 percent during the playoffs. He can play pretty solid defense, but isn’t much of a playmaker on offense. The 23-year-old still has some room to grow for sure, and his future is bright. However, the Warriors should wait and see if he takes a big step forward next year. Iguodala is getting older and Golden State will have to rely on Barnes in crunch time. They’ll have to see some improvement from Barnes before they hand him that much cash.

Barnes is in the range of Danny Green ($40 million over four years) to Thaddeus Young ($50 million over four years). Barnes should probably receive a deal that pay him roughly $10-12 million a year.

Terrence Ross (Toronto Raptors)

Ross is somewhat similar to Barnes. Barnes has Curry first in line for the big money, while Ross is behind big man Jonas Valanciunas, who is more likely to get the max extension. The Raptors are also paying Kyle Lowry and brought in DeMarre Carroll for big money. Ross is potentially the fourth (or fifth in line if they can somehow also keep DeMar DeRozan) on the team.

The 24-year-old shooting guard can shoot decently well from deep (37 percent last year), but in about 25 minutes per game, he only averaged 9.8 points, along with one assist and 2.8 rebounds per game, with a PER of 11.21. These aren’t great number, but he has athleticism, youth and a good shot, which is generally a formula for getting paid a decent amount.

Ross’ contract will probably be about the same as Waiters’. Ross should get roughly $10 million a year.

Terrence Jones (Houston Rockets)

Jones is an interesting case. He only played 33 games last season, but with Josh Smith gone and Jones back to full health, he has a chance to really break out this upcoming season. He shoots 35.1 percent from three, which is quite good for a 6’9 player who is more known for his energy and athleticism.

Jones should probably receive around $9 million per year.

Jared Sullinger (Boston Celtics)

Sullinger is also intriguing. He has struggled with injuries and conditioning, but has a nice skill set. He has to prove he can stay healthy for a whole season and can be consistently productive when on the court. 13.3 points per game along with 7.6 rebounds is pretty solid and his 17.93 PER is above average.

Probably due to health, Sullinger’s deal will be a bit less than Jones or Leonard. He’ll probably end up receiving around $8 million a year.

Perry Jones III (Boston Celtics)

Also in Boston, Perry Jones is eligible for a rookie extension, but won’t get too much. He has athleticism and potential but hasn’t put it together so far in his three years in the NBA. His numbers are pretty dismal (4.3 points, less than one assist and less than two rebounds per game with a PER of 6.91). Those numbers don’t warrant a significant offer from Boston.

If he makes the Celtics’ roster at all and can get some leverage in negotiation talks he could get Will Barton money (10.6 million over 3 years).

Tyler Zeller (Boston Celtics)

Tyler Zeller is also with the Celtics, but in a very different situation. The 25-year-old seven-footer is a solid backup center, as he averaged 10.2 points, 5.7 boards and posted a 19.01 PER last season for Boston. As one of the older players from the 2012 draft, his ceiling or potential is somewhat lower than other players looking for their first contract extension, but he has a role and executes it well. Each team needs players like that to let the stars thrive and to be flexible with other players.

Zeller will likely end up in the range of Alexis Ajinca ($19.4 million over four years) to Kosta Koufos ($32.9 million over four years) on his rookie extension. He’ll probably end up receiving around $8 million per year.

Festus Ezeli (Golden State Warriors)

Ezeli is another 25-year-old, but he has a bit more potential than Zeller. He’s down on the depth chart at the center position for the reigning champion Warriors. The energetic Nigerian has had pedestrian numbers (4.4 points, 3.4 boards and a 16.21 PER), but he’s been buried on a super-deep roster.

Ezeli is in the range of Alexis Ajinca ($19.4 million over four years) to Ed Davis ($20 million over three years). He’ll likely end up receiving around $5 million per year.

Evan Fournier (Orlando Magic)

The 22-year-old French shooting guard has posted below average numbers (12 points per game, 2.6 boards and 2.1 assists with a 12.47 PER), but he can shoot. Fournier shot nearly 38 percent from behind the arc last season. Shooters tend to get paid and Fournier is unlikely to be an exception to that rule.

Fournier is in the same tier as Waiters and Ross and could end up receiving around $7-8 million per year.

John Henson (Milwaukee Bucks)

The 24-year-old Henson stands at 6’11 and while his numbers don’t jump out at you (7 points, 4.7 boards and two blocks per game), his 18.08 PER tells a different story. Henson is that energy/ glue-guy who can make those effort plays that win games.

Henson is in the same range as Leonard and Jones and will probably receive roughly $10 million a year.

Note: Thanks to Basketball Insiders NBA salary guru Eric Pincus for his help on this article.

Based in Arizona, Eric Saar is an analyst for Basketball Insiders. He has covered the league for several years. He loves to converse about the NBA on Twitter, so follow him at @Eric_Saar. Eric graduated with honors from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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NBA

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.

Matt John

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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.

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NBA

Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards

Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.

David Yapkowitz

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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.

Honorable Mentions:
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old

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NBA

Looking Toward the Draft: Small Forwards

Basketball Insiders’ examination of the 2020 draft class continues with a look at the small forwards.

Drew Maresca

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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.

Honorable Mentions:

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.

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