Biggest Questions for Every Projected NBA Lottery Pick

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterApril 17, 2018

Biggest Questions for Every Projected NBA Lottery Pick

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    No prospect enters the NBA draft without question marks. 

    Scouting departments will be debating weaknesses of everyone, including the No. 1 overall candidates and remaining potential lottery picks. 

    The challenge for teams is deciding how much stock to put into their weaknesses, given most top prospects fall in the age range of 18-21.

    Those who looked too deeply into Donovan Mitchell's college inefficiency and playmaking must be feeling regret. Meanwhile, the Boston Celtics have to feel good about their decision to overlook Jayson Tatum's questionable shot selection at Duke and lack of explosiveness. 

    We asked the key questions concerning each projected lottery prospect (based on latest mock draft) by pinpointing the reasons scouts may feel skeptical. 

Deandre Ayton (Arizona, C, Freshman)

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    How much should teams be concerned about Deandre Ayton's defense?

    Ayton created a convincing case for himself offensively by averaging 20.1 points on 61.2 percent shooting while showcasing both athleticism and translatable skills. He was less convincing on defense, where he only blocked 6.1 percent of opponent two-point shots and often found himself out of position or missing rotations.

    Scouts must decide whether the underwhelming stats and two-way impact are legitimate and correctable. And if they aren't confident in Ayton's defense, how much will being a below-average rim protector affect his value?

    He also spent much of his time at power forward alongside Dusan Ristic. How much can we attribute Ayton's defensive struggles to his having to guard forwards away from the basket?

Marvin Bagley III (Duke, PF/C, Freshman)

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    How much should teams worry about Marvin Bagley III's NBA fit?

    Usually an athlete like Bagley who also produced at a high level (21.0 points, 11.1 rebounds) wouldn't come with many questions. But there are some worth asking by teams thinking about him as a top-three pick. 

    His fit isn't so obvious at either end, though the most pressing issue shows on defense.

    Opposing offenses exposed Bagley, whether they isolated him in space or made him react off the ball. Can he guard around the perimeter as a 4? He didn't offer any rim protection, having blocked a concerning 2.6 percent of two-point attempts. Bagley doesn't stand out as a center that coaches will want anchoring their defense in the middle. 

    Offensively, he fared well as a scorer in the post (78th percentile) but not when double-teamed. On those possessions, he graded below average as a scorer (25th percentile) and registered a 20.8 turnover percentage from the left block and 30.8 turnover percentage from the right.

    Outside of the post, he leaned on his quickness and bounce for offense as an offensive rebounder and cutter. He is not an advanced shot-creator facing up. Bagley made one jump shot off the dribble all season, and though he finished the year shooting 39.7 percent from three, it only came on 58 attempts. His 62.7 percent free-throw mark (209 attempts) seemed like the more accurate indicator.

    He does appear to have a high floor, and worst case, he gives a team an active finisher, rebounder, transition weapon and pick-and-roll target. But as a suspect defender, creator and shooter, it's fair to question his NBA fit for a potential top-three pick.

Mohamed Bamba (Texas, C, Freshman)

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    How should teams assess Mohamed Bamba's defensive potential vs. his offensive question marks?

    Bamba finished second in the country in shot-blocking and tied for seventh in defensive box plus-minus. Between the stats and his unique physical tools, specifically that 7'9" wingspan, whoever drafts him will be hoping for Bamba to have a similar effect on its defense as Rudy Gobert has had for the Utah Jazz.

    But Texas only managed to earn a No. 10 seed in the NCAA tournament before losing its first game. 

    Offensively, he tried to show he was more than a finishing target at the rim. However, in terms of points per possession, Bamba graded out in the 34th percentile on post-ups and 20th percentile on pick-and-rolls while shooting 30.0 percent on total jump shots. 

    Will it matter if his offensive skills never take off? Are we looking at a game-changer like Gobert or another Nerlens Noel?

Mikal Bridges (Villanova, SF, Junior)

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    Should teams consider drafting Mikal Bridges over the high-profile freshmen?

    Bridges had a breakout year at Villanova that will result in some team taking him in the lottery. His comforting mix of shooting and defense suggests he's a low-risk prospect. But should he go before some of the younger freshmen like Mohamed Bamba, Michael Porter Jr. and Trae Young? 

    Bridges, who'll be 22 years old on NBA opening night, still remains limited as a creator; 49.0 percent of his offense is split between spot-ups and transition. Only 4.7 percent came out of isolation, and he's missing an in-between game, having made 18 of 52 jump shots off the dribble and three of 10 runners all season.

    Bridges was also right-hand dominant, as he converted just two of his nine lefty drives out of spot-ups. 

    A 10.6 assist percentage reflects minimal playmaking ability as well. 

    Teams who'll likely feel safe with Bridges must decide whether his high floor is more attractive than a higher-risk, higher-upside freshman. This situation could remind some of 2016, when the Minnesota Timberwolves and New Orleans Pelicans took upperclassmen Kris Dunn and Buddy Hield, respectively, over Jamal Murray.

Miles Bridges (Michigan State, SF/PF, Sophomore)

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    What is Miles Bridges' most valuable NBA strength?

    Bridges' explosiveness sets him apart, but athleticism alone won't propel him to starter or All-Star upside. 

    What else will he bring to an NBA's half-court offense? 

    At Michigan State, Bridges spent most of his time (29.2 percent of offense) spotting up. But on those possessions, he shot 37.2 percent on catch-and-shoot jumpers and 23.3 percent on dribble jumpers.

    Is his perimeter shot-making good enough to carry him offensively when the game slows down, given his limitations as a creator? He's still mostly a line-driver and shooter off spot-ups and screens. Bridges did improve as an isolation and pick-and-roll scorer, but not to the point where NBA coaches will be featuring him against a set defense. 

    And he graded below average as a passer in both those situations. 

    He can always continue making progress, and if that ends up being the case, he'll likely outproduce his draft slot. In the meantime, Bridges could have trouble adding significant value to an offense during half-court sets early on.

Wendell Carter Jr. (Duke, C, Freshman)

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    How high is Wendell Carter Jr.'s ceiling?

    Carter's floor seems high thanks to his NBA tools (6'10", 259 lbs, 7'3" wingspan), production (20.2 points and 13.5 rebounds per 40 minutes), efficiency (56.1 percent FG) and visibly refined skills. He looks like a pro at baseline. But how high does his ceiling go?

    He's more of a below-the-rim big than an explosive leaper. And though he appears polished on the surface, Carter ranked in the 37th percentile on post-ups (PPP), which account for 32.0 percent of his offense.

    He didn't score a basket out of isolation all season. Carter has an old school back-to-the-basket game and isn't much of a threat to face up and use the dribble. 

    The eye test shows a promising shooting stroke, and he did convert 41.3 percent of his threes, but his sample size of makes wasn't large enough (19 threes in 37 games).

    He also isn't the most nimble defender when forced away from the basket. Can he guard 4s or will he be limited to only minutes at center? 

Luka Doncic (Slovenia, PG/SG, 1999)

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    How high is Luka Doncic's ceiling?

    Doncic is loaded with skill and basketball IQ, but he isn't powered by high-level athleticism or speed. And it raises questions over the height of his ceiling and whether he can reach star potential without blow-by burst or explosive finishing ability. 

    Will he be able to create space and get his shot off against NBA wings? Can he score against length around the basket? 

    Doncic will have to lean extra on his skill and feel, and one could argue that while he covers a lot of ground offensively, for a potential No. 1 overall pick, he's not elite in any one area. Doncic isn't known for isolation scoring and is shooting 29.8 percent from three, and though his 4.7 assists are relatively strong, he's more of a secondary playmaker than primary point guard.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Kentucky, PG, Freshman)

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    Does Shai Gilgeous-Alexander have the burst and scoring firepower to be a starting NBA point guard?

    Gilgeous-Alexander took control for Kentucky late in the season and could now find himself drawing lottery looks. He didn't beat defenses with speed or explosion, though. Gilgeous-Alexander has compensated for underwhelming athletic ability with tight ball-handling skills, crafty footwork, finishing instincts and basketball IQ.

    Teams must decide whether that will work against NBA point guards, and to what degree.

    Will he be able to beat them off the bounce or convert among the trees?

    An athlete like Gilgeous-Alexander would also presumably need a reliable jumper. With a relatively flat-footed release, he only attempted 57 threes all season, making it difficult to get an accurate read on his shooting.

    The eye test shows an Elfrid Payton-like point guard who plays below the rim and lacks scoring firepower but can fill up a box score. Where is a player like that worth taking in the draft? Teams already set at the position may want to look elsewhere, rather than draft a backup in the late lottery to mid-first round.

Jaren Jackson Jr. (Michigan State, PF/C, Freshman)

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    How will Jaren Jackson Jr.'s offense develop?

    Jackson could go as high as No. 3 due to his NBA-friendly mix of defense and shooting, plus enormous room for growth as an 18-year-old interchangeable big with 6'11" size and 7'4" length.

    But unlike Ayton and Bagley, Jackson wasn't a major producer as a scorer, having averaged 10.9 points. Skillwise, he's on the raw side without sharp shot-creating ability off the dribble; 68.2 percent of his offense came off spot-ups, cuts, transition, offensive rebounds and pick-and-rolls. 

    Taking him over players like Bagley or Bamba would mean buying into Jackson's shooting. And though he made 39.6 percent of his threes, the sample size wasn't huge (96 attempts) and his shot form shows an unorthodox pushing motion.

    With a deeper NBA arc and Jackson's funky mechanics, will his three-point success carry over? It better for the team that drafts him early. Otherwise, he won't have much to offer offensively in the half court.

Kevin Knox (Kentucky, SF/PF, Freshman)

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    What is Kevin Knox's bread and butter, and how much stock should teams put into a teenager's weaknesses?

    It's tough to pick on Knox guilt-free, given his age and the fact he led Kentucky in scoring. A deeper dive into his game shows a forward without any elite strengths.

    Unless Knox transforms into a different player, he'll need his scoring to do his talking. He was underwhelming as a passer (8.7 assist percentage) and rebounder (9.3 rebounding percentage). And his defense was as unimpressive as the numbers suggest (1.5 steal percentage, 1.0 block percentage), even though defensive stats don't always paint the most accurate picture.

    Offensively, on days when Knox's shot is off, so is his game.  

    He did average 15.6 points, only he finished 4-of-18 out of isolation all season, showing little ability to create shots. Knox was most effective working off the ball from spot-up position, which accounted for 33.2 percent of his offense. But even on those possessions, he averaged .961 PPP in the 58th percentile.

    Otherwise, Knox ranked in the 49th percentile in transition and 53rd working off screens. And he shot 34.1 percent from three.

    Capable in many areas but not proficient in any, Knox is a polarizing prospect, particularly given how much time and room he has to improve.

Michael Porter Jr. (Missouri, SF/PF, Freshman)

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    How should teams view Michael Porter Jr. after his injury and struggles upon returning?

    Porter played two minutes in Missouri's opener, then had back surgery and wound up returning for the team's last two games, when he combined to shoot 9-of-29 with one assist.

    NBA teams must decide how to assess Porter based on what they saw late in the season versus his high school performances from over a year ago.

    Major back injuries aren't a joke, and he clearly looked limited in terms of explosiveness against Georgia and Florida State, but Porter also wasn't a dunk-contest athlete to begin with. On the other hand, he hadn't played in months.

    Will he continue to crumble against contact inside the way he did in March? Is he skilled enough as a shot-creator and shot-maker? Can he make others better? Last summer at Adidas Nations, he totaled one assist through three games (60 minutes). 

    Porter is a scorer, but it's worth questioning whether he has the body and game to make it work efficiently at the NBA level. 

Collin Sexton (Alabama, PG, Freshman)

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    Should teams worry about Collin Sexton's assist numbers?

    Sexton's 3.6-2.8 assist-to-turnover ratio doesn't reflect starting NBA point guard numbers. Since 2012, Tony Wroten Jr. remains the only first-round point guard to record a lower one during his final year in college.

    Alabama shot poorly as a team, and Sexton was relied on to score, but he's never been known for facilitating. And though scoring point guards have appeal in today's NBA, he only shot 36.3 percent on all jump shots and 47.2 percent at the rim.

    What happens if his scoring ability doesn't fully translate and he's also not a high-level distributor? Is Sexton a lead-guard answer for teams that need one? Or is he just another Rodney Stuckey, as one scout questioned last month?

Robert Williams (Texas A&M, C, Sophomore)

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    How big of an impact will Robert William make without possessing any translatable offensive skill?

    Williams returned as a sophomore and looked relatively the same as he did the previous season. In terms of skill development, there was hope he'd improve as a shooter, but he shot only 21.6 percent on jumpers, including 0-of-12 from three while making 47.1 percent of his free throws.

    He did pose a threat as a back-to-the-basket scorer on the block, but NBA teams won't be running plays for Williams in the post. 

    One of the top athletes in the draft, Williams' identity is clear. He's a finisher (73.7 percent at basket), rebounder (14.4 per 40 minutes) and shot-blocker (3.9 per 40). He'll be valued for his ability to pick up easy baskets and protect the rim.

    But without the ability to shoot or create, it wasn't uncommon to see Williams fade or have minimal impact on a game. Twelve times he finished in single digits as a scorer his sophomore year.

    Can he follow non-skill bigs like DeAndre Jordan and Clint Capela and become a high-impact center just by using his tools and explosive leaping?  

Trae Young (Oklahoma, PG, Freshman)

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    Will Trae Young's volume scoring translate?

    Young led the country with 27.4 points per game, but there are scouts who remain skeptical about his scoring translating. 

    He was given a green light to attempt 19.3 shots per game and any one he wanted, freedom he won't have in the pros. Young leaned heavily on contested threes (10.3 attempts per game) and free throws (8.6 attempts).

    And while many NBA scoring point guards have mid-range games, Young only made four jumpers all season that didn't come from behind the arc. 

    Without standout size, strength, length or athleticism, there are also questions over his ability to get his shot off against NBA athletes. At Oklahoma, he only converted 49.6 percent of his attempts at the basket.

    He struggled defensively in college, and whoever drafts him will just hope for him to hold his own, given his physical limitations. That makes it even more important for Young's scoring to carry over.

             

    Stats courtesy of Synergy Sports and Sports-Reference.com