Did your team get it right? A way-too-early 2018 redraft.
With summer league in the rearview mirror, I thought it might be fun to do a little way-too-early redraft. I know what you are saying. Past summer league MVPs have included names like Glen Rice Jr., Arinze Okauku, and Dwight Buycks. Ever heard of them? Yeah, me neither.
However, the nature of summer league has changed in recent years to make it slightly more telling. All 30 teams now participate, and it has become a much more competitive environment as players fight to be noticed by scouts and executives in the stands. It still may not be a great indicator, but a little overreaction never hurt anyone.
Without further ado…
1. Phoenix Suns: Luka Doncic
Doncic was at the top of my pre-draft big board and I see no reason to change that following his absence from summer league. We have seen Doncic plenty in over 90 games for Real Madrid at the in Spain and the Euroleague, the highest level of competition outside of the NBA.
In those contests, he already averaged 16.0 points on 45% shooting from the field, 3.9 assists, and 4.8 rebounds per game. At 6’8, Doncic is the best passing wing prospect we have seen in years to go along with his already developed scoring skills. There are questions about his athleticism and ability to become a top-notch shooter, but his scoring success and high free throw percentage indicate that those issues may not be as big as they appear.
See my colleague Thomas O’Callaghan’s full breakdown of Doncic here.
2. Sacramento Kings: Kevin Knox
Summer league reaffirmed why I had Knox higher than most on my draft board (admittedly not this high) because of his position and age (he just turned 19 in August).
I have referenced this chart before, but this is Kevin Pelton’s analysis of the contribution players on minimum contracts make to a team. As you can see, centers and power forwards on minimum deals still produce substantial wins above replacement league-wide, while twos and threes have a negative wins above replacement.
That is why I have Knox slated here. The margin between him and the big men in this draft is even less than I originally thought, so I see his median outcome as a much more valuable player than the median outcome of any of the big men who went above him in this draft.
That’s not to say there are not concerns with Knox’s game. He was 6-23 finishing around the rim in the half court during summer league. In the pick and roll, he only averaged 0.7 points per possession, which would put him at the bottom of the NBA.
However, summer league showed that Knox was clearly playing out of position at Kentucky. With more spacing around him, Knox showed an ability to create shots, a passing vision we didn’t see in college, and a newfound determination to get to the rim. His jump shot was as advertised as he went 10-28 from three and looked comfortable taking some difficult attempts.
The biggest criticisms of Knox in the pre-draft process were his tendency to settle for mid-range jumpers and his lack of intensity on defense. But after his offensive explosion in summer league and good defensive effort, Knox looks like a two-way wing with a lot of offensive upside.
3. Atlanta Hawks: DeAndre Ayton
I wavered a lot here between Ayton and Jaren Jackson Jr. My issue with Ayton is that I just do not see how he becomes a top-20 player on either end of the floor. That’s not to say he is not a top prospect. He has plenty of great attributes that could make him good—just not transcendent.
For starters, he has a gargantuan physical frame and an explosive athlete. Despite his power down low, he plays with a surprising touch finishing with both hands and has good passing vision. His shot also projects to NBA three-point range but probably not at an elite level.
On defense, Ayton’s athleticism means that he could become both an elite switch-defender and rim protector even though his success in both of these areas was spotty at best in college.
I have two primary concerns with Ayton. He was not good on the defensive end of the floor in college largely because of bad instincts. NBA coaching might fix that, but it might not. If he cannot figure out where to position himself or how to read the game quickly, his defensive upside could be severely limited.
If Ayton is not going to be an elite defender, he has to be a phenomenal offensive player to justify such a high selection. Ayton has a lot of positive offensive attributes, but I do not see a path for him to become an Anthony Davis or Karl-Anthony Towns type of player with his current skill level. His lack of a handle will prevent him from creating his own shots, and without that, I think that limits him to being a strong second option on offense. I see him putting up big numbers but not becoming a go-to scorer.
4. Memphis Grizzlies: Jaren Jackson Jr.
Jackson Jr.’s first summer league game was a microcosm of what he brings to the table. He was 8-13 from three on all sorts of different attempts. Pick and pops, catch and shoot, and off the dribble, it did not matter. Jackson Jr. shot from deep range with no hesitation even when contested. Combine that with his ability to switch onto guards on defense, and he projects as the prototypical modern big man.
Unfortunately, he does not do a whole lot else. Jackson Jr. lacks size and physicality. On offense, that translates to a basically non-existent post presence. On defense, he struggles to rebound at times and is not a menacing rim protector.
Jackson Jr.’s skills are extremely valuable in today’s NBA, and he demonstrated that in summer league. It just seems like his ceiling is relatively limited unless his jump shot becomes one of the very best in the league. He is young even for a one-and-done prospect, so maybe he will make improvements that no one sees coming.
5. Dallas Mavericks: Wendell Carter
Carter was perhaps the most impressive prospect who played big minutes at summer league because his strengths translated to the NBA game, and he showed improvements in the places that had scouts concerned.
Carter’s impeccable feel for the game was on display in Vegas. Carter’s defensive instincts in college were the best of any center in the draft, and he showed great court awareness on the pick and roll.
This play is a great example. Watch as he sets a screen off a DHO, has the patience and timing to let his guard create separation, and then finds the space between the two defenders to receive a pass. He makes it look easy. It’s not.
Good lord, Wendell Carter was awesome last night. Short roll and DHO game cooking on offense, plus a couple corner 3s too. Get used to this. pic.twitter.com/tt7ZUUHjs8— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) July 8, 2018
But the biggest difference between Carter Jr. in college and summer league was his improved physique. Carter looked leaner which translated to increased quickness on defense and more explosive finishing on offense. Carter was all over the court on defense, blocking 2.6 shots per game while also switching onto guards at the three point line. Just look how he cuts off Trae Young multiple times and forces him into an impossible jumper.
He might not have the ceiling of the four big men drafted in front of him, but he might just end up being the best player.
6. Orlando Magic: Mo Bamba
I was a relative Bamba believer in the pre-draft process. Yet, summer league was a reminder of why others might not have been so taken aback by the lanky Texas product.
Bamba is skinny. Really skinny. As a result, he gets bullied too much in the paint on both ends. If he is ever going to become an elite offensive or defensive player, he has to put on muscle.
My biggest concern, though, actually came on the defensive end. Bamba does not get off the ground quickly, so sometimes his length does not bother people as much as it should when he is the on-ball defender. If you watch this video, all of Bamba’s blocks in summer league came as the help defender at the rim.
Bamba believers tout him as the possibility of a more switch-heavy version of Rudy Gobert on defense with a three-point shot. After watching summer league, I still see the path for Bamba to be that kind of player. I am less sure about it actually becoming a reality.
7. Chicago Bulls: Mikal Bridges
Am I missing something here? I get that at 21 with limited upside, Bridges might not be making NBA GMs hot and bothered at first. You know what should though? Wings that can shoot threes and play defense.
Almost every team in the league needs more guys like Bridges (see that chart again). After shooting 43.5% from three in his final year at Villanova, Bridges’ jump shot looked just as good at summer league, where he shot 7-16 from deep. He also was active on defense as evidenced by his 1.6 steals per game.
I get that most teams at the top of the draft are looking for potential superstars, which seems like a pretty unlikely outcome for Bridges. But players like Bridges are extremely valuable and can help other young, more ball-dominant players develop. I thought Bridges would have made a perfect fit for many teams in the top 10, including the Bulls here at No. 7.
8. Cleveland Cavaliers: Trae Young
I admit that watching Trae Young in college really annoyed me. It felt like he gave up on his teammates at times. That being said, I am still a believer in Young’s NBA potential.
I actually think his bust potential is overstated by most analysts. Young was a prolific passer in college, averaging 8.7 assists per game, and the correlation of passing statistics in college and the NBA tend to be the highest. Guys who see the court well in college seem to have no problem doing it at the next level. And although I still have questions about how well he can actually create open shots for himself, there will always be a place for a point guard who can make open shots and find open players.
Even though I am not concerned with how poorly Young shot in summer league, his play did raise some other red flags. Most notably, Young did not create separation from his defenders like he did in college. Take a look at the play with Wendell Carter again.
From Young’s perspective, if he is going to succeed in the NBA, he needs to separate from guys like Carter with ease, and he struggled to do that more than I would have thought.
Ultimately, my concerns about Young’s offensive upside and shot selection persisted in Las Vegas, but I think people overreacted to his poor start. The Cavs need superstars in the post-LeBron era, and Young would have been a nice fit with his high ceiling.
9. New York Knicks: Collin Sexton
I feel like I am the only one who still believes in Sexton more than Shai Gilgeous-Alexander after summer league. Frankly, neither really answered any of the pre-draft questions about them, and I liked Sexton more then, so I do now, too.
Sexton made All-Summer League First Team because he scored in bunches. Sexton averaged 19.6 PPG and showed an ability to change pace with the ball. On the other end of the floor, he played with the same defensive intensity we saw at Alabama, and he looks like that he could become a stopper with his length and athleticism.
Unfortunately, Sexton’s weaknesses from college carried over to summer league as well.
He had an abysmal 24 assists in seven games. Sexton plays a lot with his head down and only seemed to find guys at obvious moments, when the defense had to collapse to him as he drove to the basket.
He also showed no signs of an improved shot. Sexton shot 33.6% from three in college and only 3-13 in summer league behind the deeper NBA line. Anyone who watches the NBA knows that having three-point range is a must in today’s game, especially at the point guard position.
Believers in Sexton point to the 78% from the line in college as an indicator that he has good touch and can develop more range. And he better. Without it, Sexton could end up being just a backup option off the bench. With it, he has two-way starter potential, and that’s worth the risk for the Knicks.
10. Philadelphia 76ers: Miles Bridges
I am not quite sure what to make of Bridges at times when I watch him. Ultimately, he seems like a less polished version of Mikal Bridges (confusing, I know) but with more athleticism.
Bridges shot 36.4% from three at Michigan State and has a true small forward frame at 6’7 220. Combine that with his athleticism on the perimeter, and it is not hard to see a potential two-way wing.
In summer league, Bridges shot 6-30 from beyond the arc. Not good by any means, but he got up over six attempts per game, so he at least shot with the confidence that he can make NBA threes. He is a lottery-level talent, and fits the mold of the supporting offensive player the Sixers need.
11. Charlotte Hornets: Mitchell Robinson
Honestly, I thought about having Robinson much higher than this, but it is so hard to trust a few games in summer league with only a few high school tapes for support.
For those who do not know, Robinson ended up skipping his freshman season at Western Kentucky to train for the draft, and never stepped foot on a college basketball court. NBA scouts were clearly concerned with his personality, and only had tape from Louisiana high school basketball, so no one was willing to take a chance on him until the Knicks took him with the 39th pick.
Well hindsight is 20/20. He played with incredible intensity in summer league, and his stats were flat out bonkers.
The most insane number was probably Robinson’s 25% offensive rebound percentage, meaning he got an offensive rebound on one out of every four shots that his team attempted with him on the floor. By himself, Robinson would have ranked fourth among NBA teams in offensive rebound percentage last season. He had over six offensive rebounds per game!
On defense, Robinson was everywhere. He ended summer league with a 14% block percentage, which estimates the percentage of two-point attempts a player blocks while on the floor. Rudy Gobert, the NBA Defensive Player Of The Year, led the league with a 6.4% block percentage last season. Robinson more than doubled that.
Why is he not higher than 11th? I still do not know if he has any offensive skills besides putbacks and dunks, and I want to see him show that same effort against NBA players on a nightly basis. But so far, all I can say is wow. He looks like the steal of the draft.
12. Los Angeles Clippers: Marvin Bagley
I know I seem crazy having Bagley this low. Just hear me out because I have been low on Bagley for awhile now.
I just don’t see the path to becoming a quality starter for Bagley. He showed absolutely zero defensive intelligence at Duke, so I do not see his physical gifts translating to defensive success.
Offensively, I think his shooting is a massive concern. Bagley supporters point to his 39.7% from three at Duke as reason to believe he can shoot at the NBA level. I’ll pass. Bagley only took 58 threes in college, an extremely small sample size. On 209 free throws, Bagley shot only 62.7%, and his mechanics look flat out bad to me, particularly his elbow position, which causes a plethora of horrible misses.
On the interior, he is an entirely one-handed player. Look how the defender just sits on Bagley’s left side while Bagley refuses to go up with his right hand. The one time Bagley played a real NBA big man in Jordan Bell, Bell ate his lunch, and Bagley finished 3-16 from the field.
Maybe I am wrong and everyone else is right. Maybe Bagley will figure it out on both ends and will become an elite player because of his uncanny jumping ability for his size. I just don’t see it.
To me, he looks like a tweener who will at his best be an inefficient scorer and a spotty defender. That is just not a player I am interested in. And if summer league did not validate my opinion, just remember, the Kings drafted him…so there’s that.
13. Los Angeles Clippers: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Another guy where I have trouble seeing the upside. He is long for his position, can shoot off the dribble, and has a knack for getting to the rim. I am just not sure that is enough to compensate for his weaknesses.
Gilgeous-Alexander is a sub-par athlete who struggles to finish at the rim when he gets there. Also, he has a low release on his jumper, so I just do not see it ever becoming effective from range at the NBA level, even though he has a nice mid range shot off the dribble.
I watched a lot of Gilgeous-Alexander at Kentucky and came away with a much different perspective about his defense from many draft experts. I see the physical tools of a defensive stopper, but I thought he was largely unimpressive as an on-ball defender. I rarely saw him in a good stance, and when he did, it seemed like his man blew right past him.
For Gilgeous-Alexander to prove me wrong, he needs to show a lot more defensive effort and make significant strides shooting the ball.
14. Denver Nuggets: Anfernee Simons
If I were drafting in this spot, I probably would take Michael Porter Jr., but that’s no fun. I went with Simons as my wildcard choice because it is very possible he ends up being one of the best 15 players in this draft class.
Simons came to the NBA out of IMG Academy because he reclassified in order to enter the draft a year earlier. Much like Robinson, it was tough to evaluate Simons in high school, but he showed out in his first opportunity against professional competition.
The thing that stood out most was Simons’ shot. He was 9-26 from three and even took some of those attempts off the dribble in the pick-and-roll. More importantly, his form looked silky smooth.
Simons’ handle and jumping ability were highly touted coming into the draft and looked good in Las Vegas. Even though he lacks an NBA frame right now, he competed defensively.
Simons is a project, but I like what I see from the 19-year-old.
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