New Number One and Early Overractions | The Morning Dunk
As we look to broaden the scope of prospects covered here on The Morning Dunk, it's time to look at some "contenders or pretenders" regarding potential first round consideration.
Welcome to another edition of The Morning Dunk!
We’ve gotten to see quite a number of draft prospects in action over the last month, so it’s time to start expanding coverage over the next few weeks to start solidifying evaluations on a larger scale.
Our team at No Ceilings has done a tremendous job highlighting some “sleepers” and even some “deep sleepers” here on the Substack. Some of us have even gone through some early overreactions. However, I haven’t exactly had my share in the fun so it’s time to take it up a notch.
I do want to discuss where I’m at regarding my thoughts on who should be the number one overall pick in 2022. But after that, I want to get into the meat and potatoes of the column which is a dive into some overreactions I’ve either observed or had myself using rankings on my 1.0 version of this year’s Draft Deeper Big Board.
Without further ado, let’s get rolling.
Jabari Smith: Top Overall Draft Prospect?
It’s getting harder and harder to deny Jabari Smith Jr.’s status as the top overall prospect in the 2022 draft class.
Not that I haven’t appreciated what I’ve already seen on film from Smith, because I certainly have. But I wanted to make sure I wasn’t misevaluating if I categorized him as a tier 1 player and potentially moved him ahead of Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero on my board.
I’m here to say it’s getting REEAAALLLLYY close between all three.
In the first draft of my board, I actually slotted Banchero in ahead of Holmgren because I loved the scoring versatility from a player who reminds me of Carmelo Anthony. Banchero’s proficiency in operating from the elbows, canning transition 3s and overwhelming defenders around the basket with his pure force is shared by one of the greatest scorers the game has ever seen.
As for Holmgren, his defensive instincts and fundamentals are second to none. There’s zero doubt in my mind he’ll step into the league as one of its most impactful defenders despite the physical concerns everyone and their grandmother want to throw out about him. Once the outside shots start falling with more consistency, his arsenal inside the arc will only get stronger and he’s already finishing a ludicrous 77.2% of his 2P field goals.
But then there’s Smith, who’s been the most consistent of all three.
Smith hasn’t suffered from anything to limit his playing time game to game. Nor has he faced a team that’s been able to contain him and force him into an off shooting night. On top of all that, he’s held his own in multiple defensive situations and has even shown some plus passing ability for a forward his size.
Even if he hasn’t showcased one particular skill in volume, there isn’t anything I can point to and say he doesn’t have one example of it on tape. Sure Auburn hasn’t exactly run the same gauntlet of competition that Gonzaga has in terms of strength of schedule, but the Tigers have faced off against UConn, Syracuse and Nebraska. And in all of those contests, Smith has had over 20 points.
We’re at the point in the year where we have enough of a sample size to start making legitimate conclusions. There’s zero doubt in my mind that Smith has displayed enough to leverage a two-way role on any NBA team. Every squad in the league needs size, versatility and shooting.
Let’s start with shooting and come back to the other two in a second. Over 11 games, Smith has already launched 57 threes and is converting at a 45.6% clip. While that percentage may dip slightly over the rest of the year, the fact that he’s already been that efficient on high volume is eye opening.
Compare those numbers to Banchero and Holmgren who are making far fewer on not even close to the same volume and Smith wins the shooting battle no contest.
In terms of scoring overall per Synergy Sports, Smith ranks in the 94th percentile on spot-up shooting, 82nd percentile in finishing as the roll man, 77th percentile on jump shots overall and in the 88th percentile on catch-and-shoot looks. He’s been average shooting off the dribble as well as finishing around the basket, but he’s not “struggling” in either area.
And then when we circle back to the fact that he’s 6’10”, he has plenty of size and length to better help those numbers on the interior as the year goes on. There have been a number of examples where he’s put together some impressively coordinated finishes. Given his touch in other areas I’m not too concerned about the percentages coming up from inside the arc.
Defensive versatility has really been the calling card for Smith outside of his perimeter stroke. His footwork is superb while defending guards and wings, and he swallows up opposing players with his length and proper use of angles. The hip movement, lateral mobility and awareness paint him as the type of forward NBA teams are in dire need of in today’s switch-happy league.
Knowing how and when to effectively trap and double team while possessing the quickness to recover and help when necessary is a rare combination of traits and skills. There are a number of smart defenders in the league at Smith’s height, but few actually possess the foot speed and coordination to consistently pull off what he can.
The hesitancy behind actually putting him first on a big board really comes from the concerns I outlined earlier regarding shot creation and finishing with two feet in the paint. He isn’t the same level of passer that Holmgren and even Banchero are, but he makes sound decisions with the ball when the defense forces him to go elsewhere.
If he can better develop his handle to step into shots off the bounce easier, then first overall truly is his spot to lose. Until that happens, the argument can be made depending on the team choosing to favor more specific skill sets.
But Smith may very well have the highest ceiling if all breaks right for him. And given the skill set I outlined, may have the best baseline of all three as well.
I hate to jump to conclusions incredibly quick like making Smith the top prospect after only a few weeks of play. Things change though now that we’re essentially a third of the way through.
Studying the high school film that I did, Smith seemed more comfortable operating with his back to the basket rather than facing up and stretching the floor in volume. Given that he’s already shown me plenty I wasn’t expecting, why should I cap how great he can become even the rest of the way in college?
Expect Smith to receive a glowing review and new spot on the next edition of my big board in January. And don’t count him out of moving up on the No Ceilings 2.0 composite board either.
I love getting to this part of the column.
The section where I get to “eat crow” on virtually everyone I’ll mention here, starting with AJ Griffin.
Virtually every member of the No Ceilings team stood pat with preseason projections surrounding Griffin when we pooled together our big boards for the composite ranking. I deviated from consensus and actually moved him down to 21.
There were rumblings regarding why Griffin wasn’t playing many minutes earlier in the season. From bringing him along slowly as he came back from injury to that he didn’t practice well and possessed a poor basketball IQ, I seemed to have overreacted just a tad to those rumors.
Looking at the box score stats and averages, one might have actually agreed with my initial movement. However, let’s actually give Mr. Griffin a fair shake and look at his production through this lens.
Griffin has played four games in which he’s earned 19 or more minutes off the bench. In those contests, he’s averaging 13.3 PPG, 3.3 REB and 1.8 AST while shooting 65.5% from the field. I’d say those are pretty good splits for a freshman wing who may have had concerns shared about his ability to “process the game”.
Taking a look at the tape, I actually was impressed with what I saw in Duke’s win over South Carolina State. Griffin’s better days as a defender seem to be ahead of him, as he looked more aware than he has been in terms of positioning and playing angles.
There’s no reason why Griffin can’t be a plus defender given his physical tools and athletic ability. Factor in efficiency scoring inside the arc, proficiency converting on open jumpers and passing effectiveness on the move and that’s the billing of a lottery selection in the 2022 draft.
Admittedly, I was wrong not continuing to support Griffin through a slow start and will happily take the “L”. But I seem to have been on par with the curve in moving Peyton Watson down a few spots.
The UCLA forward hasn’t shown any consistency or reason to lead me to believe he’s going to put together his game on both ends any time soon.
Watson is only earning 13.8 MPG for the Bruins and has amassed just one standout performance over the nine games he’s played where he went for 19 points against Bellarmine.
Normally I’d advise solely honing in on the raw numbers, but the film doesn’t have much more to show in terms of bright spots either. Watson looks lost on the floor the majority of when he’s out there and hasn’t shown much ability to make shots outside of an easy dunk that comes his way.
On the defensive end, I had viewed Watson as a massively underrated shot blocker given some of what I saw from his high school days. But he hasn’t blocked a shot in the last five games he’s played and hasn’t looked good on that end either.
Freshmen generally struggle to keep up on defense, and his 67th percentile rating in total defense actually encourages optimism. But that doesn’t take enough away from my overall disappointment.
His body clearly needs some filling out, and his motor can tend to run cold especially if he hasn’t gotten anything easy to go around the basket on offense. But as it stands, Watson could benefit from coming back to school for another year to fill out his skill base and overall awareness on both ends.
One guy who I wasn’t sure where to go with him on the early edition of my board was Memphis’ Jalen Duren. The 6’10” center is one of the most physically imposing prospects in the class, yet did almost nothing to impress me when I saw him in Brooklyn against Iowa State.
In that contest, he got in foul trouble fairly early and struggled to find his place within the offense during the second half when he could actually play his fair share of minutes. His lack of assertiveness calling for the ball in the post or setting screens at the top was alarming, and made me question exactly what his purpose was within the team’s schemes.
After getting a few timely blocks on the defensive end, Duren got going running the floor and finding ways to generate easy buckets for his team. I’m glad he showed signs of impact and leveraged his physical gifts to his advantage, but it took virtually the whole game to rev up the motor.
If that was something that became a habit the entire year moving forward, Duren’s prospects of remaining high on my board would be dangerously in question. I left him eighth hoping he would start to string together some dominant outings to boost his stock up further to where his raw talent suggests he should rank.
He hasn’t had a game like he did against Western Kentucky since, where he went for 22 points and 19 rebounds, BUT his last two outings against Murray State and Alabama have been positive ones mainly because of what I’ve seen on the film.
More activity, better awareness defensively and a hotter motor helped him stand out on my screen along with a few nice instances of playmaking off the short roll. He still lacks processing speed offensively but at least we’re beginning to see more examples at this level of reasons why we were intrigued with the type of player he was in high school.
I still question his touch away from the basket, but if he’s playing physical defense, running the floor, playing effectively out of pick-and-roll and staying out of foul trouble it’s hard to argue with rolling the dice on someone who’s built and moves like a Greek God.
I can’t say for sure I’ll move Duren up any more spots on my board, but my urge of wanting to rocket him down out of my top 10 or argue with those who see him as a top five or six talent in this class has waned.
One ranking I definitely want back up to this point is Max Christie. I slotted him at 12 hoping he’d show some more potential on the ball and efficiency in higher volume up to this point but sadly that hasn’t been the case.
His playing time has remained steady at slightly south of 30 MPG in 11 starts, but the shooting splits of 33.3/26.1/83.3 aren’t great outside of the charity stripe.
I’ve loved his play both scoring and passing out of pick-and-roll where he ranks in the 70th and 74th percentiles respectively. But outside of making some noise on opening night and a good outing against Butler there hasn’t been much more to write home about.
Is he moving well without the ball and at least setting himself up for clean looks? For the most part yes. His spatial awareness and off-ball movement have been as good as advertised for someone initially billed as one of the better shooters in the country. A lot of the looks just haven’t fallen, which is unfortunate because had more gone in I’d likely be making a different case.
If Christie isn’t able to show more crafty scoring off the bounce and better efficiency from the field overall, he can kiss his status as a top 20 player on my board goodbye next time around. His saving grace to me has been his defense where he’s held his own ranking in the 54th percentile overall and in the 85th and 75th percentiles defending in isolation and on spot ups.
Christie has plus positional size for a guard standing at 6’6” with solid length and feel for the game. Whether his lack of explosiveness will hold him back from contending for a lottery pick remains to be seen. But it’s certainly a valid concern given what he’s shown to this point.
The last prospect I want to discuss in this section is someone I’m actually glad I’ve held pat on in terms of ranking. Caleb Houstan was a top 10 player on my 1.0 board and hasn’t shown me any reason to move him down based on his personal performance.
Houstan’s game isn’t one to be fully appreciated from just looking at the numbers. One would want the 40% on field goals percentage to come up a few notches, but he is shooting 36.5% on threes and hitting 83.3% of his free throws. Houstan is a shooter first on offense, and the stroke is pure to where I fully expect those numbers to continue to climb.
Getting into the tape though, he’s already had flashes of playmaking out of pick-and-roll, operating in transition and finishing off line drives to the basket. He’s not the most creative player with the ball in his hands, but he’s effective enough because of his high IQ and positional awareness offensively.
Houstan ranks in the 64th percentile on spot-up shooting, 82nd percentile on hand offs and 71st percentile in pick-and-rolls including passes. That’s an offensive profile I can work with, and what I expected to see given his U19 play last summer.
Defensively he’s been a mixed bag. There are times where he’s defending off the ball and rotates perfectly to play the passing lane and force a turnover. Then there are other possessions where he gets backdoored pretty easily or gets blown by one-on-one. He’s gotten better on that end over the last three games in my opinion, but it’s definitely an area to keep an eye on.
I’m going to remain in on a player in Houstan who I know is a cerebral, skilled player offensively. As he gets more comfortable in finding he role he’s meant to play for Michigan, those percentages should tick up and keep him firmly in lottery discussion as we move through the rest of the year.
I want to be all-in on Caleb Love. I really do. However, the inconsistency doesn’t help point his stock on an upward trend. He’s had four contests this season already with 22 points and has showcased shot making from all over the floor. The pull-up triples, one dribble mid-range jumper, tough finishes around the basket. But for all of those impressive offensive performances, he follows up with games where he can’t get it going or lacks assertiveness scoring the ball. In North Carolina’s last two against Furman and Kentucky, he’s a combined 5-of-18 shooting from the field and 4 assists to 6 turnovers. He’s the most Jekyll-and-Hyde point guard in the class that he makes it difficult for evaluators to firmly label him with a first-round grade. Right now, the stock is down and I’m not sure it can swing back up after a season and a half of the same concerns.
In similar fashion, TyTy Washington didn’t come out guns blazing against North Carolina either despite the rest of Kentucky having no problems putting the Tar Heels on blast in a dominant win. Against poorer competition, Washington has shown proficiency in making perimeter shots and has even flashed a nice runner in the lane. His Synergy percentiles in multiple shooting categories look great as well as his play in pick-and-roll. Unfortunately, those numbers are propped up by scrums against programs like Southern and Ohio. Against Duke, Notre Dame and North Carolina, Washington hasn’t created the same level of separation on his jumpers and has lacked any sense of dynamic scoring ability overall. He’s kept the turnovers down and has found ways to get others involved, but Washington doesn’t jump out at me as a guard worthy of supplanting someone else in the NBA right now. Middling stock keeps him afloat for now, I’ll be watching very closely during SEC play.
6’8” 230 lbs. wings like Harrison Ingram should have more buzz around them than he currently does. An intelligent and low-risk playmaker off quick actions as well as a good defender and rebounder for his position, Ingram doesn’t have the burst or separation ability to consistently stand out as a shot maker over opposing defenses. His finishing around the basket leaves something to be desired, and his 4th percentile ranking in jump shots off the dribble also doesn’t help his pro cause. If his catch-and-shoot numbers can hold along with continued care over the basketball, he’ll have his case as a top 20 talent. I'm curious to see how scouts continue to react to what’s on the tape though from a scoring perspective.
5 Games To Watch This Week
12/21, 9pm EST: Kansas @ Colorado: Jabari Walker will once again be called upon to take a tough cover against Kansas, be it Ochai Agbaji or Christian Braun. Evan Battey and Tristan Da Silva make up the rest of a talented front line for the Buffaloes who look to upset one of the deepest Jayhawk squads in recent memory.
12/21, 9pm EST: UConn @ Marquette: If Walker vs. the world doesn’t tickle your fancy, then this game definitely should. Justin Lewis is still a forward prospect worth keeping an eye on, and he will have his hands full against a Huskies team with a surprising amount of depth. Andre Jackson, Adama Sanogo and Jordan Hawkins are all names to keep watch of for UConn.
12/22, 6pm EST: Louisville @ Kentucky: One of the most exciting rivalries in college basketball, I’m sure we’ll once again have a great game on our hands here. Malik Williams and Samuell Williamson will have their hands full against one of the most experienced Wildcats teams they’ve faced in their time with the program. Sahvir Wheeler has been hot as the lead Kentucky guard, and Oscar Tshiebwe also continues to make a case as a draft-worthy big man in 2022.
12/22, 7pm EST: Arizona @ Tennessee: Arguably Kennedy Chandler’s biggest test all year will come against this Arizona juggernaut vying to remain unbeaten. Outside of starting guard Kerr Kriisa, the Wildcats deploy no other player shorter than 6’6” in the main unit. Bennedict Mathurin, Azuolas Tubelis and Christian Koloko are the other top prospects to watch in this one.
12/22, 9pm EST: Virginia Tech @ Duke: In the night cap before a Christmas-oriented break in terms of top matchups (yes, go spend some time with your families you draft junkies), Banchero has some ground to make up in the race for first overall pick come June 2022. He won’t have it easy either against a tough Hokies unit that I got to see up close in Brooklyn. Trevor Keels, Wendell Moore and Mark Williams will all continue to solidify their statuses as first-round talents, and don’t forget about Griffin who has finally gotten a chance to shine for the Blue Devils.