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Looking for What Works
Going back through the 2017-2021 NBA Drafts, there are a handful of "Player Types" that have produced the highest return on investment for the Association.
If you read that simple, single word in the voice of Dwyane “The Rock” Johnson, then you and I (and many of us at No Ceilings) are cut from the same cloth. It is with great joy that I am returning to the fold from my hiatus. There was a ton of tremendous work put out by my colleagues in my absence (as to be expected), not to mention the huge amount of support from you all out there. So, I would like to say: “Thank you.”
After I left for a bit in May, I essentially missed “the fun parts” of the NBA Draft cycle. The draft, undrafted free agency, and Summer League were all tough for me to miss out on, but now I am looking ahead to the 2023 Draft Class. Scouting is a science, but it is inexact. Everyone’s process is different, especially transitioning from one class to another. That transition isn’t a defined line-in-the-sand, as there are evaluations of players that carry over from the previous seasons, while there are times that evaluators look a little further down the line to see what players make up in future classes.
As I am running through the grind of assimilating my preliminary board, I have felt like I should do my due diligence in assessing what is working for NBA teams in terms of the success of their picks. That takes us to the meat of this article. Before the mad dash of figuring out who goes where on any sort of board or ranking, I wanted to see what Player Types teams are hunting for, with a specific focus on a sort of success rate. This research dates back to the 2017 NBA Draft Class all the way up through the 2021 Draft Class. Five years is a nice, easy number. It is in line with how readers enjoy consuming information while also being a substantial enough sample to show the direction the league is trending. These Player Types are not an attempt to recreate the wheel. This isn’t me trying to abolish traditional player positions or to tweak existing philosophies that others are putting out there.
The goal here is to show what commonalities exist between players that have panned out in the Association. We’ll dive into what these player types are, point out some of the current pros that fall under them, and also give an initial projection of some incoming prospects that fall into these same categories. The ranking of these types is not in terms of what is most important to the NBA but to, again, point to what Player Types have succeeded in terms of volume in the league. Enough of the pre-defense of this post; let’s get started.
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5. Total Package Scorers
Prior Examples: Jayson Tatum (2017), Luka Doncic (2018), Anthony Edwards (2020)
2023 Potential: Cam Whitmore (Villanova | Forward), Keyonte George (Baylor | Wing)
To go into what the definition is of what I am calling a “Total Package Scorer,” is that it is a player that is your go-to guy on offense. There are players that have been selected with the idea—or expectation— to carry a heavy burden on offense. They usually show that they can be trusted to finish from several levels on the court or, at least, project to have the capability to grow into a player that can be a threat from several areas on the floor. One thing to pay attention to here is that some of the players listed also have some tendencies of the Player Types that will be listed later on, but they are just more of a Total Package Scorer.
The reason that Total Package Scorers fall to fifth on the list isn’t because NBA teams aren’t targeting these players; this is simply a supply-and-demand issue. Every franchise would love to land a Total Package Scorer, but drafting one outside of the Top 3 of a draft is highly unlikely—though not impossible (See Shai Gilgeous-Alexander). Jayson Tatum, Luka Doncic, and Anthony Edwards are all examples of this Player Type, but what about the incoming class?
Not to say that the players that may go #1 or #2 aren’t talented scorers, but they may not have the full range of scoring ability as Cam Whitmore and Keyonte George project to have. Whitmore electing to go to Villanova isn’t the typical path of a player that could boast an NBA scoring package, but the film suggests that he may end up becoming a very dynamic pro. He has the build and athleticism that is proven to be vital by the majority of top NBA scorers while also having some range to his shot and powerful finishing ability. Similarly, Keyonte George has the frame to endure plenty of contact, along with nice shooting ability. Baylor adding a player of his scoring acumen with the stable of Guards is going to do wonders for their postseason aspirations.
4. Switchable Defenders
Prior Examples: OG Anunoby (2017), Mikal Bridges (2018), Matisse Thybulle (2018)
2023 Potential: Jarace Walker (Houston | Forward), Ausar Thompson (OTE | Perimeter)
This is where I hope you understand that the goal of this piece isn’t to reinvent the wheel. The definition of a Switchable Defender is just that: a player that you can trust to move off of his initial assignment to another player without fear that they will be at a disadvantage. You’ll notice that the frame of these types of players somewhat mirror that of the aforementioned Total Package Scorers. They are long and agile, capable of staying in front of the quick-footed perimeter players while maintaining the adequate length and strength to take on physical, frontcourt players.
You’ll notice this as we climb the ranks here, but this Player Type is a bit more available compared to Total Package Scorers—emphasis on “a bit” here. Teams will typically take players under this umbrella with the hope that they will become a significant enough threat from beyond the arc to be worthy of a substantial amount of playing time. Sometimes they are threats from deep, like OG Anunoby. Sometimes they aren’t, like Matisse Thybulle.
Some prospects in this class that profile to be this Player Type include Houston’s Jarace Walker and Overtime Elite’s Ausar Thompson. Walker projects to be more of a power defender, in the same mold as your OG Anunoby’s or Draymond Green’s (not saying he will be them), whereas Ausar Thompson could switch onto a variety of perimeter threats and potentially hold his own on some of the Fours in the league—like your Mikal Bridges types or Matisse Thybulle’s of the world.
3. Jumbo Creators
Prior Examples: Lonzo Ball (2017), LaMelo Ball (2020), Cade Cunningham (2021)
2023 Potential: Amen Thompson (OTE | Perimeter), Anthony Black (Arkansas | Perimeter)
If you look at the direction the NBA is trending toward, you’ll notice that adding players with length that can move the ball is becoming more and more of a necessity. Having a Jumbo Creator may be 1B in terms of importance to the success of a team’s construct. The height of these players seems to cover whatever deficiencies exist in their repertoire. The number of players that fit this bill in the Association today may be more vast than what you may initially think.
Aside from the players listed above, Josh Giddey, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Tyrese Haliburton all fit the “criteria” of being about 6’6ish as guards. You could even add players like Bam Adebayo, Franz Wagner, and Alperen Sengun in this Player Type due to their ability to have the offense run through them from a different spot on the floor.
Taking a look at some of the incoming players that project to be a Jumbo Playmaker, Amen Thompson of Overtime Elite and Arkansas’ Anthony Black fit that bill. Amen Thompson seems to have more of a knack for setting up his teammates a little bit better than his twin brother, Ausar. He has good body control while attacking the rim and has solid pass preparation while engaging the defense. Black will have no shortage of talent to set up on his Razorback squad. His fluidity, coupled with his height-of-eye advantage, gives the opposition fits on a nightly basis (see the Razorback’s European Summer takeover).
2. Floor Spacing Guards
Prior Examples: Landry Shamet (2018), Gary Trent Jr. (2018), Desmond Bane (2020)
2023 Potential: Nick Smith Jr. (Arkansas | Guard), Terquavion Smith (NC State | Guard)
Yet another case of not trying to outthink the room here. Considering the Player Types that were listed earlier (Total Package Scorers and Jumbo Creators), it’s no wonder why the NBA has a high volume of Floor Spacing Guards. These players open up the floor for creators to run sets with sufficient enough spacing to keep the defense honest while also keeping additional pressure away from a team’s go-to scorer. One thing that has changed about these Floor Spacing Guards is that they are now relied upon to be able to make a pass off of a dribble or two if their shot isn’t open.
Compared to the previously mentioned Player Types, these Floor Spacing Guards are more common. Prospects that can shoot are not in short supply, which is why more is asked of them to succeed at the next level. If the coach can trust you to knock down your shots and keep the ball moving to the right spot, your chances of seeing some playing time increase exponentially.
There are some players that figure to contribute from deep within the confines of what teams will ask of them. As discussed in the prior Player Type, the Razorbacks have an embarrassment of riches on their team—notably, Nick Smith Jr. Not simply “just a shooter,” NSJ does open the floor up for his teammates, as he is a dangerous shot off of the bounce or the catch. We saw Terquavion Smith light it up for the North Carolina State Wolfpack last season, so it should be safe to assume he’ll do it again on (laughing audibly) even more volume. With Dereon Seabron in the NBA, Smith will be the guy for NC State, so get ready for some more fun shooting nights coming from one of the best in this class.
1. Utility Forwards
Prior Examples: Saddiq Bey (2020), Scottie Barnes (2021), Herb Jones (2021)
2023 Potential: Dariq Whitehead (Duke | Forward), Dillon Mitchell (Texas | Forward)
The thing that I love about Utility Forwards being one of the more common Player Types that succeed the most in the NBA is that they are my personal favorite type of players. They typically are good at multiple aspects of basketball but are seldomly “elite” at a particular skill. Sure, the names that I have listed are the cream that has risen to a status of respectability. But there are plenty of players who serve a vital role on their team that isn’t exactly the sexiest.
Players like Jarred Vanderbilt, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, and Grant Williams aren’t household names to casual NBA fans, but their teams know how valuable they are to their overall production. They do the things nobody else seemingly wants to do. This Player Type casts a wide net in terms of skillset, which is why this is the most successful of the ones I have researched.
What is interesting about this Player Type is how they overcome the stigma that perpetuates over them: Jacks-of-all-trades, masters-of-none. There are plenty of prospects that project to fit this mold within the upcoming class. Dariq Whitehead is a strong finisher, a good defender, and has a nice shot. There is a slight possibility that he might be a Total Package Scorer for Duke, but in the preseason, it is safe to project him being—at least—a strong Utility Forward in the early going. Texas Longhorn, Dillon Mitchell, is a strong defender, perhaps even being more of a Switchable Defender, but his combination of rim running, rebounding, and motor gives him a real shot of being one of the top Utility Forwards that this Draft Class produces.
For those wondering why there is a list of 2023 prospects that did not include Victor Wembanyama or Scoot Henderson, there are more Player Types that I collected data on that did not make the cut. Perhaps down the line, I may put out the others I took notes on, but I wanted to focus on the rate of success vice the most important or the more difficult to find. Again, the players listed in the 2023 Projected slot are just that: projections. I’m excited to see more of these players and how their teams use their strengths this season.
As we move forward, you can expect plenty of great content to come as the Draft Cycle inches closer and closer. There are changes that have been made to the podcast I cohost, Draft Deeper, as No Ceilings colleague, Maxwell Baumbach, will now join Nathan and I! In the midst of all of these changes, you can expect to get the same amount of research, the same amount of film, the same amount of top-tier interviews, and the pure entertainment you have grown accustomed to. Things are looking up with this new Draft Class, and I am here for it!