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Looking For What Works in the 2023-2024 NBA Draft Class
Identifying which "Player Types" have produced the most from the 2018-2022 Draft Classes.
Introducing 2023-2024 Player Type Projections!
Welcome, everyone, to my official kickoff article for Season Three here at No Ceilings! The team has been pumped for our third year pretty much as soon as our second season concluded. We have a ton of things in the works—all of which we are thrilled to unveil. BUT, in the meantime, I am truly jazzed about dropping this piece today. This column is a call back to a piece I published last season, in which I looked back through the past five draft classes. The reason for selecting the last five classes is to give a reasonable sample of players that show the direction in which the NBA and its teams are trending. Using the past five drafts means that I will no longer be referencing the 2017 class—say goodbye to Jayson Tatum. But we get to take a look at last season’s rookies.
For those unfamiliar, I’m not looking to get too cute with my own category of player. The traditional position metrics aren’t sufficient to explain the skill sets that NBA teams are looking for, so this is an attempt to look for those particular skills in order to help identify these players and evaluate how they fare in terms of their likelihood to be drafted. Only the top five player type categories will be listed here—and they will not be in order of “the best” first. Instead, they will be presented in volume—in other words, the hit rate at which they are selected and succeed.
Together, we’ll take a look at what these player types are, look at some examples that are already in the NBA, and then highlight some players in this class that project to have a similar role in the league.
Let’s get started…
5. Malleable Bigs
Prior Examples: Jaren Jackson Jr. (2018), Evan Mobley (2021), Chet Holmgren (2022)
2024 Class Projection(s): Alex Sarr (Perth), Guillermo Diaz Graham (Pittsburgh), Jorge Diaz Graham (Pittsburgh)
One of the most exciting player types that was not on last year’s list: Malleable Bigs. Truth be told, I was struggling to come up with a label for what these players do. These are bigger players—6’10” and up—that are not what many would consider traditional big men. These players can sometimes shoot, like what we expect Chet Holmgren to be able to do based on his 39% shooting at Gonzaga and natural touch, and what we have seen from Jaren Jackson Jr. Sometimes they possess interesting playmaking chops, like what we’ve seen from Evan Mobley, and what we expect Chet to be able to do. The commonality that they all share, is that they can cover a ton of space on the defensive side of the ball.
The tools that these players have birthed a high demand from NBA teams. Seeing JJJ become the Defensive Player of the Year and having Evan Mobley named to an All-Defensive team, players like Chet Holmgren and Victor Wembanyama have become perennial Top 3 picks should be an indicator of how teams value this player type—and, maybe, should influence how they rank them.
Alex Sarr is the most popular name that projects to be the next-in-line malleable big to be drafted. While being listed at over seven feet tall, Sarr moves around the floor like an NBA star. His season with the Perth Wildcats of the NBL has already begun, and he is already showing his vast game. Ferocious rim protection, elegant shooting touch, and graceful movement patterns all equate to a player that will be selected with a Top 3 pick.
The Diaz Graham twins, Guillermo and Jorge, are the best-kept secrets in the draft space. Playing for Pitt, both show the propensity to cover a ton of space on defense, while displaying the foundation of a shooting game. Guillermo has a little more sauce to his handle, but both look to be instinctive ball movers. With the demand exceeding the supply, these two could be the most rapid risers this season. They have the skill to make it happen.
4. Jumbo Creators
Prior Examples: LaMelo Ball (2020), Tyrese Haliburton (2020), Cade Cunningham (2021)
2024 Class Projection(s): Matas Buzelis (Ignite), Cody Williams (Colorado), Taran Armstrong (Cairns)
The number of traditional-sized guards being drafted in the NBA has seen an appreciable decline in this five-year window. It’s becoming more difficult for players under 6’4” to find a consistent role on the teams that they are drafted to, which means that NBA teams are looking for the ever-so-popular jumbo creators. What has become a fascinating development in the jumbo creator player type, is that creators are creating from new positions on the court.
Scottie Barnes and Josh Giddey—both of the 2021 class—have been playing alongside other “lead guards” and giving their teams unique advantages, as the defense has to account for where these possessions are beginning, and how they attempt to take away what they do best. Alperen Sengun gives his team the ability to run an offense through the post or from the elbows. Generating plays from different positions on the court has become more in demand, which now means scouts have to adjust.
Matas Buzelis of the G League Ignite is around 6’8”-6’11” (I know, the size variance is mildly frustrating) in height, and plays similar to former Orlando Magic, Hedo Turkoglu. His season has already taken off, and he has shown some of what made him a highly regarded prospect. Smoot shooting, spatial awareness, and having more toughness than his frame would suggest, combine to make a player that teams are highly interested in.
Cody Williams is the younger brother of OKC’s Jalen Williams (friend of the program). He’s also around 6’8” and is a smooth ball-handler who can snake his way into the paint to create himself and others. Taran Armstrong has been a name folks have known for a while. He is about 6’6” and is the best passer and processor in this class.
3. Total Package Scorers
Prior Examples: Luka Doncic (2018), Anthony Edwards (2020), Paolo Banchero (2022)
2024 Class Projection(s): Justin Edwards (Kentucky), Ja’Kobe Walter (Baylor), Stephon Castle (UConn)
Total Package scorers are what many would consider the best players in the game; however, they are not drafted as frequently due to supply. Over the past few seasons, there have been a few classes that have yielded multiple players within this type. The ability to be instant offense for their teams—the ability to be some of the best, most complete offensive players in the NBA is obviously highly coveted. In three of the past five drafts, these player types have been selected with the top pick in their respective drafts.
The selection of Deandre Ayton over the likes of Luka Doncic and Trae Young in 2018 looks to have mightily influenced the prioritization of this player type over others. With the belief that this class is *takes deep breath and rolls eyes* “weak” there are still players who look like they could fit this bill. Remember, consensus did not think that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or Franz Wagner would grow into this type. But there is almost always, at least, one of these players in a class. What they need to have is either a crazy high level of feel or spectacular athleticism with ball skill.
Justin Edwards is widely regarded as a Top 3 player in this class. With players like Ron Holland and Alex Sarr getting a head start, Edwards has already been surpassed by some of these players that have gotten head starts. Regardless, he remains the top player on my board due to his sweet shooting mechanics, good size, fluid athleticism, and ball skill.
Ja’Kobe Walter is likely to be a polarizing prospect coming into the season, as he already has a wide variance in where he is projected to be drafted. He has a ton of fans at No Ceilings—myself included. At 6’5”, Ja’Kobe is a very shifty ball handler who can score at all levels. He can play on or off of the ball. He is deceptively strong, while also being extremely coordinated. Stephon Castle is a smooth operator as a scorer. He has a very mature driving game, possessing a number of counters once the defense forces him to alter his initial angle. He is a nightmare on grab-and-go possessions and in transitions. The biggest thing I’m looking for with him is shooting consistency from beyond the arc. If he can do that, he is probably the most unheralded total package scorer.
2. Floor Spacing Guards
Prior Examples: Anfernee Simons (2018), Tyler Herro (2019), Desmond Bane (2020)
2024 Class Projection(s): Riley Kugel (Florida), Milos Uzan (Oklahoma), Elliot Cadeau (North Carolina)
With every team looking for the aforementioned total package scorers, the next move is to surround them with the right type of player. The best offensive option will normally operate with the ball in hand, operating around screens—using floor spacing to create wide driving lanes. Floor-spacing guards have been one of the most successful playing types in the NBA because of the symbiotic relationship they share with total package scorers.
Years ago, floor spacers could get by with just one skill: shooting. With the evolution in the game, floor spacers had to adapt—growing as ball handlers and connective passers. While it hasn’t been a necessity for them to be top-tier defenders, like Desmond Bane, it certainly helps when you can trust them on that. We also discussed how players under 6’4” are almost an endangered species as primary initiators, but many still have a role. So long as they are elite shooters.
Riley Kugel was a player for the Florida Gators who caught on as a potential draftable player last season, and it was because of his high-octane offense. On just under three attempts from deep per game, Kugel hit over 37% of them. His free throw percentage was sub-70%, so there is a bit of a concern that his efficiency could have a bit of a false floor. Nonetheless, Riley is the highest-ranked returning prospect on my board because I believe in the floor spacing and complimentary ball skill.
Milos Uzan is one of these players under 6’4” who has a real shot to succeed at the next level due to his shooting. Milos shot over 40% from deep on over two three-pointers per game. He can certainly run an offense, but his skillset projects to be the kind that can play off of a star player. Elliot Cadeau could be one of the most divisive freshmen in the class this season. He has the type of game in which he shines the most with the ball in his hands, but he has to overcome the obstacles of being an undersized guard. Listed at 6’1”, Cadeau will play for North Carolina. Will he get the keys to the offense? That remains to be seen, but the young guard has a pretty shot and connected on over 37% of his long-range shots at Link Academy.
1. Utility Forwards
Prior Examples: Grant Williams (2019), Jaden McDaniels (2020), Herb Jones (2021)
2024 Class Projection(s): Omaha Biliew (Iowa State), Bobi Klintman (Cairns), Baba Miller (Florida State)
The most frequently selected player type with the highest success rate is the utility forward type. These players have the most variance within their games comparatively speaking, and oftentimes serve as a catch-all for their teams. Generally speaking, they must be defensively versatile. These players are relied upon to be weakside rim protectors and be able to switch on defense, while also being able to close out possessions on the glass. Offensively, their teams will look to take advantage of what they excel at to make life simple for them. Sometimes, we see these players take another step in development but, even if that next step isn’t achieved, the floor of these players is high enough to be a meaningful contributor.
Grant Williams is such a player who was a vital piece to one of the most consistent teams in the NBA for the majority of his time there. Once his time in Boston ran its course, it wouldn’t take long for another team to invest in him. The Mavericks now look to Grant to be a versatile defender, valuable pick and roll partner, and floor spacer. Jaden McDaniels is up for a contract extension, with the price expected to be significant. That’s due to his hard-nosed defense, rugged rebounding, and expanding offensive role. While having two of the most gifted offensive players in the NBA on their roster, the Wolves have managed to use McDaniels in the most effective ways. Herb Jones is a unique utility forward, as he shows flashes of creation ability, but he is one of the best on-ball defensive players in the NBA.
Omaha Biliew is a favorite among us at No Ceilings, and it is because of how much he can do on the floor. Playing at Iowa State this year, Biliew has a very good chance to be a high “stocks” player, and he will be able to showcase his cutting way from the ball, as he will have some very good guards to set him up. He’s shown the ability to space the floor, and I’ll be interested to see how he can serve as a connector on offense.
Bobi Klintman was a red-hot riser throughout the draft process last season, and he is looking to improve his stock with the NBL. His season has already begun with Cairns, and Bobi is showing reasons to believe. His off-ball game is flashing well enough, while he is looking more comfortable on the defensive side of the ball in each game. The Baba Miller saga was well-documented last season, and it was one of the most upsetting storylines for scouts, executives, and fans alike. He’ll have an opportunity to show a full season’s worth of film this season to showcase his defensive instincts and playmaking feel. The shot is going to be his offensive swing skill, and it could be what propels him up draft boards.
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