2016 NBA Re-Draft: Is Ben Simmons Still No. 1?

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistSeptember 13, 2021

2016 NBA Re-Draft: Is Ben Simmons Still No. 1?

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    In the instant-analysis culture of today's sports media, many expect to know who won the NBA draft the moment it's over. NBA teams are immediately graded on every pick they made. 

    It's the nature of the business, but you can't know how wise a selection was until some time passes. You have to see how the player develops his game. You have to see how the team utilizes him within its schemes. In some cases, players still have plenty of physical changes on the way.

    For the 2016 draft class, we've now had five years to analyze those factors. That would alter the order if the first round were held again today.

    To determine an order for this re-draft, we considered more than a dozen numbers, including rate (think points per game) and cumulative (think total points) catch-all metrics, shooting percentages and per-possession averages for basic indicators like points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals. Since there's still some looking forward here, FiveThirtyEight's individual player projections and subjectivity also factored in.

    One thing you won't see weighted is team need. We aren't going back in time as much as guessing where players would be selected if they were re-drafted now. So, each pick will driven by a best-player-available approach.

    With all that in mind, let's take a look at how a 2016 NBA re-draft might shake out.

30-26

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    30. Golden State Warriors: Juan Hernangomez (originally picked 15th)

    In theory, Juan Hernangomez can be a Davis Bertans-like floor spacer who pulls bigs away from the paint.

    In practice, he's had an above-average three-point percentage twice (and is below average for his career). He also struggles defensively, regardless of who he's assigned to guard.

               

    29. San Antonio Spurs: Denzel Valentine (originally picked 14th)

    Denzel Valentine had a mini breakout in 2017-18, when he averaged 10.2 points, 3.2 assists and 1.9 threes in 27.2 minutes. However, his career was derailed by an ankle injury (and subsequent surgery) that cost him all of the 2018-19 season.

    He's struggled with availability since then, and his numbers aren't close to what he produced that season for the Chicago Bulls.

                 

    28. Sacramento Kings (via PHX) Damian Jones (originally picked 30th)

    Damian Jones has yet to find a consistent role anywhere. He has yet to average more than 17.1 minutes per game in a season, and he appeared in only 24 games that year.

    Still, he's shown flashes of being a backup big who can protect the rim and finish at a high level on the other end. For his career, he's averaged 1.8 blocks per 75 possessions and has a 69.3 true shooting percentage.

               

    27. Toronto Raptors: Cheick Diallo (originally picked 33rd)

    Cheick Diallo didn't play a single NBA minute in 2020-21, but he looked like a capable backup center for the 2018-19 New Orleans Pelicans. 

    In only 14.0 minutes per game, he averaged 6.0 points and 5.2 rebounds (15.1 points and 12.9 rebounds per 75 possessions).

                

    26. Philadelphia 76ers: Shaquille Harrison (originally undrafted)

    Shaquille Harrison is a dynamic perimeter defender who can cover guards and wings, rebound well for his size and position and create turnovers. However, he's struggled to make a positive impact offensively because of his wildly inconsistent three-point shot. 

    Harrison made an encouraging 38.1 percent of his three-point attempts in 2019-20, but his career mark is a woeful 28.3 percent.

25-21

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    25. Los Angeles Clippers: Marquese Chriss (originally picked eighth)

    Marquese Chriss has had his moments, particularly as a backup big for the 2019-20 Golden State Warriors, when he averaged 16.4 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.2 steals per 75 possessions.

    However, box plus/minus still pegs him as a below-replacement-level player for his career. And a season-ending injury in 2020-21 interrupted the momentum he built up the previous season.

           

    24. Philadelphia 76ers: Kris Dunn (originally picked fifth)

    When healthy, Kris Dunn is the kind of point-of-attack defender who can flummox an opposing game plan. Unfortunately, injuries have limited him to fewer than 50 appearances per season across his career.

    Poor shooting has almost doomed his offense, too. He's hit only 30.5 percent of his threes, and his true shooting percentage is 7.9 points below the league average.

              

    23. Boston Celtics: David Nwaba (originally undrafted)

    Like Dunn, Nwaba has struggled with the three throughout his career. He's hit only 32.3 percent of his attempts from deep.

    But he has scored more effectively inside the arc, and a few extra inches (6'5", compared to 6'3") gives him slightly more defensive versatility.

                

    22. Sacramento Kings (via CHA): Yogi Ferrell (originally undrafted)

    Yogi Ferrell has struggled to recapture the magic of his first few seasons, when he averaged 10.2 points and 1.6 threes while shooting 37.8 percent from deep. However, he's proved capable of providing heat-check moments in a second unit.

    He just hasn't had an opportunity to show that in recent years.

                  

    21. Atlanta Hawks: Danuel House Jr. (originally undrafted)

    Danuel House Jr. was understandably at his best when playing alongside generational playmaker James Harden. Over the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, he averaged 10.1 points and 2.0 threes while shooting 38.1 percent from deep.

    His numbers fell off after Harden left last season, but he's shown that he can be a valuable catch-and-shoot outlet for teams with heliocentric stars.

20-16

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    20. Brooklyn Nets (via IND): Georges Niang (originally picked 50th)

    Georges Niang wasn't able to carve out a consistent role until his fourth NBA season. But once he did, he quickly became one of the league's most consistent reserve floor spacers.

    Since the start of the 2019-20 campaign, Niang has averaged 3.8 threes per 75 possessions while shooting 41.4 percent from three. That level of volume and efficiency in combination with his quick release made him a clear plus for the No. 1 seed in the West last season.

            

    19. Denver Nuggets: Furkan Korkmaz (originally picked 26th)

    Like Niang, it took Furkan Korkmaz a bit of time to figure out how to contribute in the NBA. However, he became an important shooter for two good Philadelphia 76ers teams in 2019-20 and 2020-21.

    Over those two seasons, the 6'7" wing averaged 9.5 points and 1.9 threes in only 20.6 minutes (16.7 points and 3.4 threes per 75 possessions) while shooting 39.0 percent from three.

                

    18. Detroit Pistons: Taurean Prince (originally picked 12th)

    Over the course of his second and third seasons in 2017-18 and 2018-19, Taurean Prince averaged 13.9 points and 2.2 threes while shooting 38.7 percent from deep. He also showed some multipositional defensive ability.

    His scoring average and effective field-goal percentage have tumbled a bit since then, but there's still plenty of time for the 27-year old to reclaim his old form in the right role.

             

    17. Memphis Grizzlies: Dorian Finney-Smith (originally undrafted)

    Dorian Finney-Smith's development over the course of his career is something any undrafted free agent could aspire toward.

    In his first three seasons, he averaged 5.9 points while shooting 40.5 percent from the field and 30.3 percent from three. In 2019-20 and 2020-21, those marks soared to 9.7 points with a 46.9 field-goal percentage and a 38.5 three-point percentage.

    With a consistent outside shot, DFS is now the kind of three-and-D wing who can complement a ball-dominant creator like Luka Doncic.

                

    16. Boston Celtics: Malik Beasley (originally picked 19th)

    Defensive struggles and off-court problems, including a 120-day jail sentence, might limit Malik Beasley's rise in this re-draft a bit. However, he's still a few spots higher than he was back in 2016 thanks to a strong run since the start of the 2018-19 season.

    Over that three-season stretch, Beasley has averaged 13.0 points and 2.3 threes in only 24.9 minutes while shooting 39.7 percent from three. Last season alone, his scoring average soared to 19.6.

    In that campaign, Beasley showed that he's more than just a catch-and-shoot threat (though that likely remains his biggest strength). He took 2.3 pull-up threes per game and shot 38.1 percent on those attempts.

15-11

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    Corey Sipkin/Associated Press

    15. Denver Nuggets: Derrick Jones Jr. (originally undrafted)

    An inability to hit from the outside can be a massive issue in today's NBA, and Derrick Jones Jr. has shot only 29.4 percent from deep throughout his career. However, he can still be a game-changer as a cutter, finisher and defender.

    Jones is one of the league's most explosive vertical athletes and can defend multiple positions. If a team is able to coax more consistency out of his jumper, he can be an important piece.

               

    14. Chicago Bulls: Alex Caruso (originally undrafted)

    Defensive box plus/minus has its limitations, mostly because box scores have long struggled to capture the impact and importance of defense. But when it backs up what you're seeing, it's worth noting.

    Over the last two seasons, Caruso is eighth overall and second among guards in defensive BPM. He can lock down plenty of opposing guards and even bother superstars with his effort and willingness to move his feet on that end.

    Combine that with a career 37.7 three-point percentage and highlight-worthy bounce, and you have one of the game's steadier reserve guards.

                

    13. Sacramento Kings (via PHX) Caris LeVert (originally picked 20th)

    Caris LeVert hasn't had an above-average effective field-goal percentage or true shooting percentage since his rookie season, but his playmaking from the wing helps to offset that inefficiency a bit. And his ability to create shots, both for himself and others, remains encouraging.

    There's still some time for LeVert to figure out how to shoot more consistently from the outside, which could make him a bona fide second or third option on a good team.

              

    12. Atlanta Hawks (via UTA) Ivica Zubac (originally picked 32nd)

    Other than sheer size, nothing about Ivica Zubac really leaps off the screen. He isn't an explosive athlete, rarely creates for others and has hit only one three in his NBA career.

    But he checks several of the boxes you'd want checked from an old-school big. He can dominate the glass, fill the paint as a rim-runner and is typically in the right spots on defense.

    If you're just looking for solid, Zubac has proved to be that, even in the role of a starting center.

                 

    11. Oklahoma City Thunder (via ORL): Dejounte Murray (originally picked 29th)

    Dejounte Murray landed a second-team All-Defensive nod in his second NBA season, when he averaged 1.2 steals in only 21.5 minutes. Then, a torn ACL cost him all of the 2018-19 campaign.

    In the two seasons since he returned, Murray has remained a pest on the perimeter. He's also been more able to leverage his length and athleticism toward scoring. He averaged a career-high 15.7 points last season with the San Antonio Spurs.

10. Milwaukee Bucks: Jakob Poeltl (Originally Picked 9th)

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Projected Five-Year Market Value: $114.0 million

    Jakob Poeltl has quietly been one of the NBA's more effective defensive anchors since he joined the San Antonio Spurs ahead of the 2018-19 season. 

    Over those three campaigns, he has averaged 6.8 defensive rebounds, 2.4 blocks and 1.0 steals per 75 possessions. Only two players matched or exceeded those marks during that same stretch.

    Poeltl doesn't rack up those numbers by way of top-end athleticism or nimble feet. It's more about anticipation, awareness and solid fundamentals. He's seemingly always in the right spots, and when you're 7'1", that alone goes a long way.

    If the defensive presence was all that Poeltl provided, he'd still be pretty high in this re-draft. But he's an underrated offensive weapon as well.

    Over the past three seasons, Poeltl is tied for 11th in the league in offensive rebounds per 75 possessions. That's a big part of why the Spurs have scored 4.1 more points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, although it isn't the only reason.

    Poeltl has also been a solid interior passer and finisher in San Antonio. No one matches all of his marks for offensive rebounds per 75 possessions (4.5), assists per 75 possessions (2.9) and true shooting percentage (62.0) since 2018-19.

9. Toronto Raptors: Buddy Hield (Originally Picked 6th)

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Projected Five-Year Market Value: $65.8 million

    Buddy Hield's small slide from No. 6 has more to do with others who've outperformed expectations than any shortcomings of his own.

    Coming out of Oklahoma, Hield was projected to be a high-end floor spacer, and he may be even better than advertised on that front. Stephen Curry, Duncan Robinson and him are the only players in NBA history to attempt at least seven threes per game and shoot at least 40 percent from deep (minimum 500 total attempts).

    And while Hield isn't the pull-up weapon Curry is, he also isn't as dedicated of a catch-and-shoot option as Robinson. Think of his game as something of a happy medium. 

    Hield can get his own shot, which frees up other guards around him for a few off-ball opportunities. He's also a passable creator for others, as evidenced by 3.3 assists per game over the last two seasons.

    On the other end, Hield struggles on or off the ball. Teams hunting mismatches are likely to look for him on the perimeter. His age may be a slight concern, too. At 28, he's one of the older players in this class.

    Being one of the best floor spacers ever to play the game outweighs both of those negatives, though.

8. Phoenix Suns (via SAC): Malcolm Brogdon (Originally Picked 36th)

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Projected Five-Year Market Value: $54.1 million

    After winning Rookie of the Year in 2016-17, Malcolm Brogdon has proved to be quite adaptable.

    In his next two seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks, Brogdon averaged 14.5 points and 3.2 assists while shooting 41.0 percent from three as an ancillary piece.

    With the Indiana Pacers, he's taken on more responsibility as both a scorer and creator. He's averaged 18.9 points and 6.5 assists with them over the past two seasons.

    Brogdon's ability to fit in various roles and lineups is valuable, especially in today's increasingly positionless NBA. Depending on team construction, the 6'5" Brogdon might even be able to survive as a 3.

    After five years, it may be safe to assume that Brogdon isn't going to develop into a superstar, but he's about as good as glue guys get.

7. Denver Nuggets: Fred VanVleet (Originally Undrafted)

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Projected Five-Year Market Value: $137.5 million

    Fred VanVleet is already tied for 17th all time in career value over replacement player for an undrafted player. Only eight players in that group had more VORP through their fifth season.

    Though the 6'1" VanVleet is undersized for a combo guard, he's good at creating decent looks for himself, getting into the paint and staying in front of his defensive matchups. He's already proven himself capable of rising to the occasion on the game's biggest stage, too. 

    After averaging only 6.0 points and shooting 35.9 percent from the field in the first 18 games of the 2018-19 Toronto Raptors' championship run, VanVleet averaged 14.0 points in the NBA Finals. He was 16-of-40 from three in that series, trailing only Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in makes.

    That wasn't the only time VanVleet made a positive impact, either. Over his entire career, the Raptors are plus-7.1 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor and plus-3.1 with him off.

6. New Orleans Pelicans: Pascal Siakam (Originally Picked 27th)

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    Projected Five-Year Market Value: $72.3 million

    Hitting on non-lottery draft picks or finding steals among undrafted free agents are hallmarks of stable franchises. The Raptors checked both of those boxes with the 2016 draft class.

    Beyond finding their point guard of the future with VanVleet, they found a great second or third option at the tail end of the first round in Pascal Siakam.

    When Kawhi Leonard was on the Raptors in 2018-19, we saw what was likely the optimal role for Siakam. Attacking closeouts or taking open threes off of Kawhi's drives helped him post the only above-average true shooting percentage of his career.

    Toronto has remained competitive since Leonard's departure, but Siakam's efficiency has slid a bit in each of the last two seasons as the alpha.

    Regardless of his offensive responsibility, Siakam can be an effective positionless defender, too. A little more rebounding and rim protection might be nice, especially if you want him to play some small-ball 5, but his versatility makes him a solid plus on that end.

    Some teams might look for a face of the franchise at No. 6, but you need some luck to find that there. A championship-level third option is a win in this slot.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves: Brandon Ingram (Originally Picked 2nd)

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Projected Five-Year Market Value: $99.7 million

    It took Brandon Ingram a few years to settle in, and he'll likely never live up to those Kevin Durant comparisons he received while at Duke. But he looks like a high-end No. 2 option alongside Zion Williamson in New Orleans.

    During his two seasons with the Pelicans, Ingram has averaged 23.8 points and 2.4 threes while shooting 38.6 percent from deep. Those last two numbers have a lot to do with the first.

    During his first three campaigns with the Los Angeles Lakers, Ingram attempted only 2.0 threes per game and shot 32.9 percent from deep. Increasing his three-point volume and accuracy has forced defenders to pay far more attention to his outside shooting, which has opened up other areas of his game.

    Hard closeouts can lead to driving lanes and opportunities to finish or kick out to teammates. He's been able to dribble or cut into more mid-range buckets, too.

    If Ingram can leverage the length and athleticism that make him so potent on offense on the other end as well, he could go from fringe or occasional All-Star to closer to a perennial one.

4. Phoenix Suns: Domantas Sabonis (Originally Picked 11th)

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Projected Five-Year Market Value: $106.5 million

    Domantas Sabonis' fit alongside Myles Turner may not be ideal, especially when he sometimes has to defend quicker 4s, but his production has been borderline Nikola Jokic-esque over the last two seasons.

    Since the start of the 2019-20 campaign, Sabonis has averaged 19.4 points, 12.2 rebounds and 5.8 assists. He's one of the game's best playmaking bigs, which gives guards and wings around him more efficient scoring opportunities like catch-and-shoot threes or cuts to the rim.

    If a team was willing to play him full-time at the 5 and surround him with as many plus perimeter defenders as possible, Sabonis might look even better.

3. Boston Celtics: Jaylen Brown (Originally Picked 3rd)

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Projected Five-Year Market Value: $128.9 million

    Jaylen Brown has steadily improved over the course of his career. He went from averaging 6.6 points as a rookie with the Boston Celtics to 24.7 points per game this past season. 

    His three-point shooting, playmaking and defense have all progressed over the last five years, too. And he's the kind of prototypical wing that almost any team in the league could use.

    At 6'6", he can seamlessly move up and down lineups and guard all kinds of different players. He still has room for improvement as well.

    Among the 55 players with at least 500 minutes and a 25-plus usage percentage this season, Brown was 43rd in free-throw-attempt rate. If he can figure out how to generate more trips to the line, his advanced numbers will keep ticking up.

2. Los Angeles Lakers: Jamal Murray (Originally Picked 7th)

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Projected Five-Year Market Value: $143.1 million

    Over his first four NBA seasons, Jamal Murray would show glimpses of brilliance against a backdrop of inconsistency.

    He scored a then-career-high 48 on Nov. 5, 2018, but he then failed to reach 20 in each of his next nine games. Later that season, he dropped 46 in one game and eight in the next.

    At his best, Murray showed a Kobe Bryant-like killer instinct injected into a more modern, three-point reliant game. At his worst, he'd seemingly disappear.

    Then the 2020 postseason happened, and something seemed to click for Murray. 

    In a legendary shootout against the Utah Jazz's Donovan Mitchell, he scored 142 points in a three-game stretch. He averaged 31.6 points in the series and helped Denver overcome a 3-1 deficit. Over that entire 19-game playoff run, Murray averaged 26.5 points, 6.6 assists and 3.3 threes while shooting 45.3 percent from deep. 

    He looked closer to the peak version of himself for most of the following season, too. The Denver Nuggets scored 7.2 more points per 100 possessions when Murray played with Nikola Jokic than when the MVP played without the combo guard.

    Because of his ability to dominate as an on- or off-ball threat, Murray could fit in a variety of lineups. And while he isn't a defensive stopper, he fights on that end.

    Ultimately, Murray climbing this high is about his offensive ceiling. In just about any situation, including alongside one of the most productive MVPs in NBA history, Murray can look like the best player on the floor.

1. Philadelphia 76ers: Ben Simmons (Originally Picked 1st)

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Projected Five-Year Market Value: $155.6 million

    Ben Simmons passing up a wide-open dunk in the Philadelphia 76ers' Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals wound up being the lasting image of his 2020-21 campaign. It set the stage for an offseason packed with trade rumors.

    And that's a shame.

    For years, analysis of Simmons has focused far more on what he isn't than what he is. That moment against the Atlanta Hawks took the analysis to a fever pitch.

    Yes, Simmons' unwillingness to even consider shooting outside the paint has crippled the Sixers' offense on more than one high-profile occasion. His free-throw shooting can be nightmarish, especially when it spiraled to a 34.2 percent mark in the 2021 postseason. But he checks almost every other box.

    Simmons is an annual Defensive Player of the Year candidate. He can guard every position. He can end a possession with a rebound, take it coast-to-coast and either hammer the ball home or find the right target for a kickout.

    In a different situation with a different organization, perhaps Simmons might be empowered to do the one thing that's been missing over the course of his career. He doesn't need to shoot 40 percent from three or look like Mark Price at the charity stripe, but he has to command some respect out there.

    Without that, he's still almost certainly a multi-time All-Star in any situation. Add the shooting, and he has the talent of an MVP candidate.

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