Editor's Notes: Volume One
A few quick editor's notes on some of the prospects who need a little more No Ceilings shine at this point in the season.
The best part about being the Editor in Chief of No Ceilings is that I usually get to be the first person to read the excellent work of my colleagues. I get to take in the wisdom of our writers early, and in turn, I get to help them spruce up their articles.
The worst part about being the Editor in Chief is when I re-read an article after it’s been published and see something we’ve missed—something that the writer didn’t catch the first time, and something that I also failed to correct in my editing. It’s a terrible, sinking feeling; even if it’s something so minor that maybe nobody else noticed it, I always regret it when I realize that I’d missed something I should have caught.
Draft evaluation can sometimes be the same way. For as many players as we evaluate in depth over here at No Ceilings, there are always going to be a few players who don’t get enough shine. Every draft has its undrafted free agent crop after the big night itself, and every draft class has a few unheralded prospects who end up shining brighter than some of the big names.
With that in mind, I wanted to take a look at some of the players that we at No Ceilings haven’t discussed as much in this year’s draft class for this first edition of what I’m calling Editor’s Notes. This isn’t an attempt to take a chunk off the Draft Sicko corner; some of these players will be highly-rated prospects who haven’t gotten enough time in the No Ceilings spotlight, while other players will be those who are further from the top of the class but have shown enough flashes or intriguing moments to be worth discussing here.
Let’s start off today’s notes by looking at a player who had been considered a lottery-level talent before the season and is still hanging around the edges of that conversation.
On the surface, Dillon Mitchell appears to be having a somewhat disappointing first season for the Texas Longhorns. Mitchell, the #5 prospect in the 2022 high school class per RSCI, is averaging 8.7 points per game, 5.8 rebounds per game, and a paltry 0.4 assists per game. The concerns about his ability to contribute on offense early on appear to be founded—at least in terms of the basic box score numbers.
Dig a little deeper, though, and it’s easy to see why Mitchell was so highly touted heading into the season. On the defensive end, he’s been a menace. He uses his elite athleticism very effectively on the defensive end; when you pair his 6’8” frame with his solid defensive footwork and excellent mobility, it’s hard to imagine him not being a plus defender in the NBA sooner rather than later.
Mitchell also reads passing lanes at a really high level, generating steals at an impressive rate with a 2.9% Steal Percentage. He runs the floor well in transition, and he takes full advantage of his turnover generation to bolster his offensive game.
The problems with Mitchell come on the offensive end; even so, though, those concerns are overblown. Sure, Mitchell doesn’t really have much of a jump shot—he has taken four jump shots all season, per Synergy, and is shooting just 54.5% from the free-throw line. However, he has been spectacularly efficient when he has looked to score; his elite athleticism certainly helps on that front:
Focusing on Mitchell’s offensive holes glosses over his real offensive strengths. He might not ever be someone who teams ask to take over on offense, but he’s already an excellent complementary player on that end of the floor. Mitchell ranks in the 94th percentile offensively overall, per Synergy, averaging 1.169 points per possession. He is an absolute monster on the offensive glass, snaring 2.4 ORB per game. Mitchell also has solid cutting instincts, and his cutting allows him to contribute positively on offense when he’s off the ball—even without the threat of a jump shot. His defensive excellence and efficient offense are undoubtedly the reasons why Mitchell ranks first in the Big 12 in Win Shares per 40 Minutes (0.267, per sports-reference).
There are certainly still areas for improvement; Mitchell doesn’t read the floor well as a passer despite his defensive awareness, and his lack of a jump shot will be even more of an issue if he can’t move the ball well when teams try to force it out of his hands. Still, his defense is more than good enough to make up for his offensive flaws, especially when combined with his complementary offensive skills. Dillon Mitchell might not be a Top 5 prospect at this point as he was in his high school class, but his solid complementary offensive skills and excellent defensive potential should keep him on the fringes of lottery consideration.
Kel’el Ware entered the season as one of the players in the “second big man drafted after Victor Wembanyama” sweepstakes. Ware was the #6 player in the 2022 high school class per RSCI and the #3 big man behind Duke bigs Dereck Lively II and Kyle Filipowski. Filipowski has lived up to the hype early on for Duke; Lively has been one of the bigger disappointments to start the year, even though (as our own Maxwell Baumbach recently wrote) there are certainly reasons to still like him as a prospect.
Ware has been somewhere in the middle, in a very interesting way: he has wildly swung between the two extremes of the Duke freshman big men. Simply put, Ware has been one of the most inconsistent players in college basketball. In his worst games, he has looked completely lost defensively and erratic offensively. In his best moments, he’s looked like one of the most impressive prospects in the class:
The per-game stats for Ware seem like those of a first-year big working his way into the rotation: 11 games, four starts, 9.0 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.1 APG, and 1.6 blocks per game in 23.3 minutes per contest. The box scores for Ware look like someone fused Kristaps Porzingis and Anthony Randolph and then put their stat lines into a random number generator. Ware scored two points on two free throws, shot 0-1 from the field, and grabbed three rebounds in 21 minutes against Houston. He scored 18 points on eight shots, grabbed nine rebounds, and dished out two assists in 26 minutes against UConn. Those were back-to-back games.
Of course, every player has good and bad games, but that’s sadly been a pattern for Ware. He has a good game or stretch, knocking down threes, finishing plays around the basket, and locking down on defense, but then he has a quarter or game where he seems to float from possession to possession and disappear from notice. The trend line for his minutes in recent games has also been worrying; he played just 11 minutes in Oregon’s latest outing.
Kel’el Ware has the shooting touch and rim-protection abilities to be the kind of center that everyone is looking for in the modern NBA. He can also disappear in an extremely frustrating fashion when Oregon needs him most. He has done enough up to this point to cement himself as a one-and-done prospect, and he may even sneak into the lottery if some NBA team falls in love with his skill set. On his best days, Ware lives up to that hype and then some.
Let’s hope that he starts having days like that more often.
Sidy Cissoko seems to have fallen off the draft radar for a number of scouts after a somewhat slow start to his G League Ignite career. He certainly loses some shine from being the clear #2 draft prospect on the team behind Scoot Henderson, but making that kind of unfair comparison takes some deserved praise away from an 18-year-old who has been remarkably impressive in one of the best professional basketball leagues in the world.
Cissoko is averaging 9.6 PPG, 2.9 RPG, and 2.7 APG in his first twelve games for the Ignite. His 41/34/59 shooting splits are nothing to write home about, but Cissoko is an exceptional playmaker for his 6’8” size. He has excelled as a secondary playmaker, and NBA teams should be intrigued by his abilities to create plays for others as well as himself.
Cissoko is adept as a standstill passer, and he is even more impressive as a creator for others off the dribble. He already reads the floor at a very high level for a wing, and he has the skills and the audacity to squeeze passes through minuscule openings in the defense. It’s easy to go unnoticed as a playmaker when Scoot Henderson is running the show, but Cissoko quietly has one of the best passing reels of any prospect in this class:
On the defensive end, Cissoko can be a bit of a gambler—however, those gambles often pay off. Cissoko is averaging just under a steal and a block per game, and he takes full advantage of the turnovers that he generates when he uses them to get out in transition.
The biggest knocks on Cissoko at this point, in my mind, are his shooting touch and his defensive over-aggressiveness. Cissoko’s 34.1% mark from deep is decent enough—especially since he’s putting up 3.7 three-point attempts per game—but his 58.5% mark from the charity stripe (admittedly on a tiny sample size) speaks to larger concerns. Those concerns loom even larger in light of his 24.8% three-point percentage last year with a similarly troubling 62.8% free-throw percentage.
His defensive over-aggressiveness, however, might actually be a larger concern. Cissoko has racked up an astonishing 45 fouls in his first 12 games for the Ignite. Those foul numbers are troubling in and of themselves, but they also put a damper on his defensive playmaking.
While part of the fouling issues are simply due to Cissoko being an 18-year-old in probably the second-most athletically gifted professional basketball league on Earth, those foul rates for a wing are cause for alarm. Still, he is gifted enough as a playmaker and has enough potential on the defensive end that there will be no shortage of NBA teams looking his way toward the end of the first round.
Speaking of playmaking wings…
Harrison Ingram got an in-depth write-up from our own Stephen Gillaspie before the start of the season. After an up-and-down first season at Stanford that still ended in Ingram taking home the PAC-12 Rookie of the Year honors, draft evaluators such as Stephen were cautiously optimistic that he could round into shape as a prospect outside of his passing—and I included myself among the optimists before the start of Ingram’s sophomore season.
The good news is that the playmaking ability is still there. Ingram is averaging 3.2 APG to start the season, a slight uptick from last year, and he has continued to be effective at creating shots for his teammates both as a primary initiator and as a secondary playmaker.
The bad news is…basically everything else. After putting up subpar 39/31/66 shooting splits last season, the evaluators in his corner thought that Ingram would turn his poor shooting around and that some shooting improvements would open up the rest of his game. Instead, his shooting has cratered. Ingram has thrown up ghastly 36/24/70 shooting splits to start the season, and he seems to have lost all confidence in the shot. His rebounding, the other big positive from his game last season, has also fallen off; Ingram is averaging 4.9 RPG in the early going, way down from his impressive 6.7 RPG last season.
Look, there’s still plenty of time for Ingram to turn this around. It’s still early enough that a couple of hot shooting games from distance could boost his percentages from atrocious to acceptable. He’s still an incredibly gifted 6’8” playmaker, and NBA teams these days are always on the lookout for jumbo-sized initiators who can operate as primary or secondary pick-and-roll ball handlers. At this point, though, his struggles with the rest of his game have taken quite a bit of the shine off Ingram’s passing gifts.
JJ Starling was the 21st-ranked prospect in the 2022 high school class, per RSCI, and he immediately walked into a starting spot for Notre Dame. While he hasn’t spent as much time in the spotlight as some of the other talented first-year players in this class, Starling has also shown enough flashes to indicate that he will get drafted sooner rather than later.
While his 28.9% mark from long-range and 66.7% mark at the charity stripe undersell him a bit as a shooter, Starling’s greatest offensive gifts come closer to the basket. The 6’4” guard has a stocky 200-pound frame, and he uses his size well to work his way toward the basket. Starling is shooting just under 50% on two-pointers—an excellent mark for a freshman guard. He has a fluid handle and an excellent hesitation dribble which he uses to freeze opposing defenders and give himself space to attack. He isn’t the most explosive athlete, but he is a crafty finisher at the basket. His at-rim finishing and solid runner make him difficult to stop when he works his way into the paint:
Starling is very effective as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, ranking in the 74th percentile on those plays, per Synergy. He already knows how to use screens well, and he’s incredibly hard to stop once he gets a head of steam on a charge toward the basket.
The biggest concern for Starling right now is his playmaking—despite running the pick-and-roll more than any other play type, Starling has dished out just 11 assists all year against 12 turnovers. Given that he is at his best with the ball in his hands, he will have to get more comfortable with making passing reads and dishing out helpers to his teammates to continue to have the ball in his hands at the NBA level.
Starling has done enough so far to solidify himself as a future NBA prospect; at this point, it’s more of a matter of timing than anything else. If his shooting numbers from deep and the line jump up slightly, and he gets more comfortable as a playmaker over the course of the season, Starling might make a push for the first round of the 2023 NBA Draft—especially if he and Notre Dame can make some noise in March Madness. Even if his shooting and playmaking stay at this level, though, he has done more than enough to cement his status as a prospect to watch going forward. He might be more of a 2024 prospect than a 2023 one, but he has already shown that he has the talent to carve out a role in the NBA.