If you’re anything like me, you’ve been wandering a dark, lonely path in the wilderness searching for some sort of meaning of life since the end of the college basketball season. The massive high the tournament gave led to some low, low places afterwards, but recently, my colleague Matthew Cox alerted me that they’re going to do the whole college basketball season thing all over again starting in November!
Now everything is all unicorns and rainbows for this writer, and what better tease for next season than the NBA Draft this week? We get to watch our favorite (or least favorite) college basketball players graduate (or not graduate) into the professional ranks, in search of money, glory, and possibly even money!
I’ve divided my rankings based on 2 hilariously subjective factors: An upside number from 1-10, and a likelihood of reaching that upside from 0-100%. Basically, I whittled down what matters about a prospect to these two questions: how good can he be, and how good will he be? The prospect's final rankings is these two factors multiplied together.
I’m excited to look smart (rarely) and extremely stupid (often) in the coming years based off of these!
Disclaimer to these rankings – I have not had a chance to watch the following Draft Express Top 50 international players very much, if at all, and thus have excluded them from the list: Ivica Zubac, Ante Zizic, Petr Cornelie, Zhou Qi, Guerschon Yabusele, Rade Zagorac, Isaia Cordinier, Paul Zipser, and Georgios Papagiannis (Papagiannis!!). Sorry to those fellas, but hey, this is ostensibly a college basketball website, after all.
Disclaimer 2 – I fully understand my college bias and bias towards safer players. Certain teams will need to swing more for the fences, and that’s why I included the Upside Ranks in the sidebar below. Guys with big discrepancies (Maker, Skal, Baldwin) will be explained below.
1. Brandon Ingram (Upside: 9.5, Likelihood: 90% = 8.55)
2. Ben Simmons (Upside: 9.5, Likelihood: 80% = 7.6)
Ah, this draft’s great debate. Simmons is probably further along the developmental curve right now, both physically and skills-wise, with a near-NBA ready body and elite rebounding/passing compared to Ingram’s Flat Stanley-thin frame and slightly rawer game. The biggest difference here is shooting – Ingram is a knockdown guy at 6’9, whereas Simmons shoots with the aim of a nameless movie henchman. Ingram filling out somewhat and turning into a poor-man’s Kevin Durant feels slightly more likely than Simmons making the leap from Vitaly Potapenko-level to average from outside. Simmons won’t kill spacing because he can have the ball in his hands, but he will need to have some specific player types around him. Ingram, on the other hand, will be able to fit in on basically any team as a 3 and small-ball 4.
3. Buddy Hield (Upside: 8.0, Likelihood: 80% = 6.4)
4. Kris Dunn (Upside: 8.5, Likelihood: 75% = 6.375
5. Denzel Valentine (Upside: 7.5, Likelihood: 80% = 6.0)
6. Dragan Bender (Upside: 8.5, Likelihood: 70% = 5.95)
This is pretty much Tier 3, as none of these guys are really anywhere near Simmons or Ingram. The first three were complete and total studs in college, First Team All-Americans with some specific elite skills. Hield’s shooting makes him nearly can’t-fail status for me, and everything I’ve heard about who he is as a person and a worker makes me think he’ll get there on the defensive end as well. My only hesitance with Dunn is if the shooting will ever get there (I don’t love his form), but the rest of his measurables and skills are borderline absurd. Valentine is obviously the outlier of this group, as basically no other outlet will have him this high – I just loooove the combination of length (6’ 10.75” wingspan), smarts/vision (#2 assist rate in the country at 6’5), and elite high-volume shooting (104/234, 44%, and many were off the dribble). I firmly believe he will be an awesome secondary ball-handler, team defender, and shooter. Bender is the biggest mystery of the group, and from what I’ve seen of him, his versatility on both ends of the floor will translate extremely well to the modern NBA game.
7. Jamal Murray (Upside: 8.0, Likelihood, 70% = 5.6)
8. Domantas Sabonis (Upside: 8.0, Likelihood: 70% = 5.6)
9. Timothe Luwawu (Upside: 8.5, Likelihood: 65% = 5.525)
10. Marquese Chriss (Upside: 9.0, Likelihood: 60% = 5.4)
11. Jaylen Brown (Upside: 8.0, Likelihood: 65% = 5.2)
12. DeAndre Bembry (Upside: 7.0, Likelihood: 70% = 4.9)
13. Henry Ellenson (Upside: 7.5, Likelihood: 65% = 4.875)
14. Deyonta Davis (Upside: 8.0, Likelihood, 60% = 4.8)
Kind of a mix of guys here – some standard guys you’d expect to be here (Murray, Chriss, Brown, Ellenson, Davis), as well as some prospects I’m higher on than most (Sabonis, Luwawu, Bembry). I’m a little lower on Murray’s ceiling due to questions about his defense and his strength; the shooting and scoring is obviously there, but fitting into an NBA defensive scheme could take some time. Chriss was maybe the best athlete in college hoop this year, and the violence with which he dunks gives one dreams of him attacking the rim as a roll man. His shooting mechanics are intriguing, as well (35% on 60 3-point attempts). Brown is a very good athlete who is a little bit reminiscent of MKG – elite defensive potential, but his offense is just nowhere near NBA-ready. Ellenson is incredibly skilled and smooth (my love of his game is well-documented on this site), but he’s so slow-footed that he’ll be tough to hide in the increasingly perimeter-oriented NBA. It’s tempting to place Davis higher, as his rebounding and rim protection skills looked fantastic for a freshman to go along with very good athleticism and a decent touch around the basket.
As for the surprises: Sabonis has outstanding physicality and skill level, and his potential to add a jumper is highly intriguing (77% FT shooter, good stroke). He does leave something to be desired as a rim protector due to slightly limited athleticism and only a 6’10.5” wingspan, though. Luwawu’s length, athleticism, and shooting ability paints him as the perfect 3-and-D candidate; if he had played a year in college, I think teams would be drooling over his potential in that role. Bembry is a highly-skilled player who also possesses great athleticism – at 6’6, he was the best defensive rebounder and passer on his team, and he’s very comfortable with the ball in his hands. His outside shooting stroke is his biggest area of concern (27% on 128 attempts from deep this year).
To be continued - This will go up through 50, along with some other players outside that group that could carve out rotation spots