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2019 NBA Draft Big Board: Tier 4

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CelticsBlog’s Max Carlin highlights nine players that could be at #20 and #22 for Boston.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Washington vs North Carolina Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Tier 4 of my board is what I’d call probable rotation players or realistic starter outcomes. These are not game-changing players, but I think they’re NBA guys. The tier includes the players ranked 22-30 on my big board, but would extend well into the 40s if I were to rank beyond 30th, indicating the flatness of the talent in this draft. Before reading, check out the piece I wrote outlining the philosophies underlying these rankings.

22. Matisse Thybulle, Wing

I’m generally a bit skeptical of undersized, defense-first wings with questionable shots. But I think Thybulle might be special. Yes, his position in Washington’s zone defense inflated his stock numbers (3.5 steals and 2.3 blocks per game this year) to a degree, but it didn’t create those numbers. Situation enabled Thybulle’s mind-boggling production, but that’s it. The zone enabled, Thybulle created.

And man did he create events:

During his final season at Washington, Thybulle broke Jason Kidd’s Pac-12 single-season steals record...while blocking 2.3 shots per game...as a 6’5” wing. You don’t stumble into those numbers because you’re in an event-creating role.

Thybulle generated these events through special instincts. Pull up a Washington game--no more than a few minutes will be necessary--and lock in on Thybulle. Watch how he bounces from passing lane to passing lane, not just generating steals, but shutting down easy passes the way a dominant rim protector does the paint. His awareness and anticipation are nothing short of all-time great. He’s a totally different viewing experience from every other player in the draft. It’s as if he’s watching the game from a different angle, like he’s privy to a view no one else can see--there’s no other explanation for his feel for the game happening around him.

Some have concerns with Thybulle’s on-ball defense dating back to his sophomore season, when a Markelle Fultz-led Washington deployed a man defense. I think it’s a somewhat valid concern. Thybulle’s not the greatest lateral athlete and can be susceptible to blow-bys, but he still makes plays on the ball:

On the other side of the floor, Thybulle shot 35.8% from 3 on 4.0 attempts per game across his four years at Washington. Coupled with a solid 78.2% free-throw percentage, he seems like a decent bet to be a serviceable shooter. However, he is hesitant at times, turning down open looks he’ll need to take in the NBA to be a passable offensive player. He flashes a controlled handle and some passing ability on occasion, but he seriously lacks the ability to get to the rim despite substantial athletic tools.

Thybulle will likely never be more than an offensive neutral, and I don’t expect him to be anything special as an on-ball defender. Off-ball, though, he’s so absurdly special, I see him as a more than deserving of a first-round selection.

23. Yovel Zoosman, Wing

Zoosman is a 6’7” wing with a plus wingspan and a toned, NBA-ready frame. He’s succeeded in a wide variety of roles at very high levels of international competition. In 2018, he won MVP of the FIBA U20 tournament, serving as a ball-handler and primary scoring option. With Maccabi Tel Aviv, Zoosman’s fit in as a hard-nosed role player, who brings defensive effort and IQ, shooting, and very plus playmaking.

Zoosman’s success in various roles at just 21-years-old engenders a great deal of optimism he’ll be able to slide into an NBA role immediately. That could come with lesser talent on bench units, where his prowess as a self-creator and playmaker could shine:

Or with better groups, where he could pitch in as an opportunistic complementary player with few flaws:

There isn’t really a ton wrong with Zoosman’s game. His handle in half court situations surely slows him down, but he should have no trouble attacking closeouts and flashes nicely in the open court. He’s not an elite athlete, but he’s quite solid and his size and strength compensate well for whatever shortcomings he might have in that area. He was slightly prone to offensive passivity with Maccabi, but he was also tasked with being a mere piece there.

I have mild concerns that Zoosman isn’t quite good enough at the things he excels at (pull-up shooting, playmaking) to warrant a role that would feature those skills in the NBA, but they should translate nicely to a complementary role (as they did with Maccabi), even if they are slightly wasted. Zoosman is a very well-rounded player who fits exactly what the modern NBA is looking for in a rotation wing.

24. Ignas Brazdeikis, Wing

Brazdeikis screams good bet to be an NBA rotation wing. In his lone season at Michigan, he shot 39.2% from 3 on 3.9 attempts per game. He got to the basket at an excellent rate, and finished in the 74th percentile around the hoop in the half court. At the combine, he measured in at 6’7.25”, 220.8 pounds with a 6’9.25” wingspan.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-West Regional-Michigan vs Texas Tech Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Brazdeikis is not without flaws. I do expect him to struggle guarding higher-end NBA wings. Check out the early minutes of Michigan’s Sweet 16 loss to Texas Tech, in which Jarrett Culver repeatedly cooked Brazdeikis until Jon Beilein had to move Charles Matthews on to Culver. Granted, Culver is a plus wing slasher even by NBA standards, but I do expect individual defense to be an issue for Brazdeikis. Off-ball, however, Brazdeikis is a smart, attentive, and impactful team defender.

Iggy is also not much of a passer and he’ll be 21 in January despite coming out as a freshman, but he’s quite good at basketball. I trust his shot, he’s strong as hell, and he’s a fairly cerebral player. He should be solid.

25. Ty Jerome, Combo

I’m well aware of the legitimate concerns with Jerome. His body (6’5.5”, 6’4” wingspan, 194.4) is hardly ideal for an NBA player. His athleticism simply might not reach the threshold needed to survive on either end in the NBA.

But Jerome is just a fantastic basketball player:

Watch the highest leverage moment of Ty Jerome’s basketball life. His team needs a 3 to stay alive in the National Championship Game, and Texas Tech knows it, scheming to concede the wide open layup. Culver coming off De’Andre Hunter at all was a massive blunder, but Jerome sees it, decides not to take the guaranteed 2, and dimes up his teammate for the bucket that sent Virginia to overtime and immortality.

That play perfectly encapsulates Jerome’s appeal. He is a hyper-skilled and elite decision-maker with the ball:

As for his own scoring, Jerome’s repertoire is centered on his elite jumper. Jerome was in the 85th percentile in efficiency on half court jumpers this year. He was 97th percentile on catch-and-shoot looks, 77th percentile on a very high volume of off-screen possessions, and 78th percentile in off-the-dribble shooting. Jerome also has a nasty in-between game, highlighted by a 71st percentile runner.

Reliance on his jumper because of its eliteness is not just the logical decision for Jerome, though, it’s a necessity. Jerome cannot get to the rim at all, and when he somehow finds himself there, he can’t finish (37th percentile in the half court), which is a symptom of a complete lack of explosion and strength.

Jerome’s so limited in those respects, it’s difficult to envision him reprising the lead handler role he starred in at Virginia, but he’s so elite as a shooter, smart as a defender, and will be such a menace as a secondary creator, I’d be happy to spend a late first on him.

26. Sekou Doumbouya, Wing/Forward

The billing of Doumbouya as a lottery pick, and by some top-7, talent in this draft is truly baffling to me. Doumbouya’s long been one of the premier international prospects in this class, and maybe it’s simply an unwillingness to reevaluate. My best guess, though, is that it’s a function of the misguided assumption that bad equals “raw” and “raw” equals “upside.”

At this stage, Doumbouya is pretty bad:

He lacks any idea of how to attack a close out, and is a very poor decision-maker on both ends. The appeal, meanwhile, is derived from his physical tools--6’9” with a very plus wingspan and impressive stride length and fluidity:

Doumbouya is probably more smooth than vertically explosive, but he’s unambiguously a very good athlete. At times, he’ll even flash some recognition:

Overall, though, Doumbouya is painfully unaware and extraordinarily far from being a viable NBA player. Eventually, he could be an interesting do-it-all combo forward, but given the time it’ll take and the low baselines for Doumbouya’s skill and feel levels, I’m highly skeptical of using a top-20 pick on him and the perceived “upside” associated with him.

27. Tyler Herro, Combo/Off Guard

Herro is often misconstrued as an off-ball shooting specialist. For good and bad, I don’t find that to be the case.

Prototypical shooting specialists like JJ Redick and Landry Shamet sprint off screens, contort their bodies mid-air, and still connect at an elite clip. At Kentucky, Herro shot neither a high volume nor percentage on off-screen looks. In fact, he didn’t shoot particularly well on 3-pointers as a whole (35.5%), despite easier spot-ups being by far his most used play type.

Where Herro did excel beyond the shooting specialist archetype was as a surprisingly dynamic on-ball player:

Herro doesn’t have the explosion to break down defenses himself, but given forward momentum, he can be rather useful due to his robust in-between game, elite mid-range shooting, and solid passing.

And touting his on-ball ability shouldn’t be seen as a total condemnation of Herro’s off-ball aptitude. In fact, he has an especially strong aptitude for key off-ball concepts, like relocation:

Defensively, Herro displays good effort, but is prone to ill-advised gambles. Beyond the film, Herro’s combine measurements represent a rare case of non-basketball data factoring in heavily for me. Despite standing 6’6” in shoes, Herro registered a 6’3” wingspan--just one inch longer than that of Isaiah Thomas. As such, I have some pretty serious reservations about Herro’s defensive role, because you’ll basically be counting on the lead guard alongside him to guard up a position, which is not an ideal team-building burden to bestow upon oneself.

Herro has the makings of a really nice bench scorer, but growth beyond that into something in the realm of a low-end starter on a good team seems a bit far-fetched to me. There are, of course, ways for Herro to get there (namely, hitting a high-end shooting outcome), but I don’t place much value in likely role that is so unbelievably replaceable.

28. Nassir Little, Big/Wing

Coming into the season, what made Nassir Little interesting was his combination of elite frame, plus vertical explosion, plus pull-up shooting, and elite off-court personality. I don’t think any of that was necessarily wrong. Little’s frame is elite, his vertical explosion is plus, while his shooting is certainly worse than optimists thought then, I fully expect him to be a fine shooter in the NBA, and he’s still an absolutely awesome dude. What we didn’t appreciate then is how poor Little is at literally every other aspect of basketball, which includes most of the important ones.

Little’s a horrid offensive decision-maker who can’t really dribble. He’s a completely clueless defender who makes the least of his exquisite 6’6” 224-pound frame and 7’1.25” wingspan. Had I not known Little was an elite recruit coming in, “this guy’s never played basketball before” would have seemed a more accurate background for his UNC tape than “this guy was a projected top-5 pick preseason.”

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional-Auburn vs North Carolina Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

I also have the dreaded role concerns with Little. His skill level is so low and his lateral agility so poor that I really do think of him as much more big than wing.

Badness at basketball aside, Little has enough redeeming qualities to sneak into my top 30, though. He’s not a terrible bet to shoot, is a genuinely good finisher and impressive vertical athlete, has a great motor and frame, and is by all accounts an elite human being. I can envision him growing into a useful energy big with on-ball defensive versatility and spacing equity, but Little’s lack of feel puts a very hard cap on his ceiling.

29. Terence Davis, Wing/Off Guard

As mentioned with Thybulle, I’m not keen on the idea of undersized, defense-first wings with questionable shots. Davis, however, brings enough beyond the bare minimum of the archetype, I’ve found it impossible to keep him outside my top 30.

Davis stands just 6’4.5” in shoes, but he’s truly an elite (and functional) athlete:

Davis doesn’t jump--he levitates. Davis’ disdain for gravity allows him to impact shots at the rim despite his size, to sky for rebounds despite his size, to do stuff like this despite his size:

Offensively, branding Davis as just a questionable shooter might be a bit of a stretch, too. He has legitimate shot versatility, showcasing off-the-dribble and off-movement shooting. He also has some real on-ball equity, as he’s a very competent pick-and-roll passer and sports a controlled and effective handle.

As with all those undersized, defense-first wings, the story of Davis’ career can likely be told with one simple question: does he shoot? I hate to be that reductive, but it’s just how it is (though there is also the issue of Davis’ inconsistent defensive awareness). If Davis shoots, he’ll be good. If not, he’ll be a fringe NBA player. What separates him from other players of that ilk--outlier athleticism, possible shot versatility, and offensive competence extending beyond the “3” confines of the classic 3&D role--make Davis meaningfully more interesting than the typical player of his archetype.

30. Alen Smailagic, Big

Smailagic is not a big name, and that’s perfectly understandable. His trajectory from non-prospect in Serbian semi-pro ball to the G League has not exactly been conducive to amassing a mainstream following. But Smailagic is a serious prospect.

With the Santa Cruz Warriors this season, Smailagic posted per 36 averages of 18.7 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 3.6 stocks all while being so young he was ineligible to play in the NBA.

As Smailagic’s intimidating stock numbers indicate, his primary appeal is on the defensive end. His recognition, timing, and motor are outstanding, which allow him to compensate for underwhelming vertical leaping. On the perimeter, he’s a mixed bag. His technique at this juncture is quite poor. His feet are often a mess and he has significant struggles when shifting his weight. When Smailagic could get into a proper stance, though, he flashed the ability to move gracefully:

While defense is Smailagic’s primary selling point, he does have a compelling offensive skillset as well, stemming mostly from his remarkable fluidity with the ball:

Smailagic is pretty far away from being a good NBA big man (he should find himself back in the G League for most of 2019-20). I have doubts about him holding up as a true center due to his lack of vertical athleticism around the rim, which would dampen his value a bit. There’s also the question of his shot, which was highly ineffective in his lone season with Santa Cruz, yet is by no means completely broken. At either big spot, though, Smailagic offers a compelling mix of skills on both ends.