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Shiny New Toys and More in the 2024 NBA Draft Class
Last season, Stephen dove into draft history for how freshmen prospects fare in the draft. This time, he dives EVEN DEEPER!
On the back of one callback from last season comes another trend analysis piece. These “think pieces” are meant to serve as a reset of sorts—a way to help set the table of how we need to develop our big boards as the season progresses. Last week, we went over the different types of players who are heavily sought after, as well as what types are the most successful. This week, we’ll take a look at a number of different categories in terms of how many, on average, are selected in the first round of an NBA draft.
For example, it’s easy to fall in love with freshmen. In sports, new equals better—at least, at first. Analysts of all types and levels of experience can fall for this psychological phenomenon. We also see how many traditionally sized guards are highly regarded to begin the season, only to see their stock fall as the process unfolds. Once we can see how these different categories trend, we can come into a season with a baseline understanding of what to look for.
Before we get started, we’ll go back over the past six draft classes when coming up with these different demographics. This year, this “Shiny New Toys and More” article will obviously be more inclusive, so we will look at players that have come from the Overtime Elite, G League Ignite, and international leagues as well. We’ll also take a look at how the 2024 draft class fares among different outlets, and which ones I’ll be heavily monitoring. Let’s get started!
In the age of one-and-done prospects, freshmen will certainly garner a lot of attention from both NBA teams and draft enthusiasts. The logic for hitting on a freshman makes a lot of sense: the earlier a player gets into the league, the more time teams theoretically have to benefit from the skill of the player. They also have more of a say in that prospect’s development. The younger a player is on their rookie-scale contract, the longer that player has to maintain value to that organization in a multitude of ways—development, roster construction, financial advantages, trade value, etc.
With these factors, it’s no wonder why teams can “reach” on a player—or “predraft” a prospect that may take longer to develop, but the benefit of taking that player lower within the current draft can outweigh the financial impact that player could have on the cap sheet. Oh, and that player might have also gotten drafted higher if they stayed in—at least, that’s one way to justify the “reach” for a prospect.
We’ll do this for each category for the 2024 NBA Draft projections, but next, we’ll examine how many freshmen are expected to go in the first round by reputable draft outlets.
The Ringer: 13
My Board: 10
The law of averages seems to have to play some sort of a factor in how the majority of these outlets have projected who will be taken in the first round of the coming draft. ESPN’s board has the lowest amount of freshmen selected since the 2019 NBA Draft. I am more in line with the thinking that this year’s class will be full of international league talent, as well as a healthy number of players from the NBL and G League prospects being worthy of first round consideration. For those who are not familiar with this year’s class (it’s okay; it’s still very early), below are some of the key freshmen to get to know…according to me:
The more you dig into what makes a draft class “weak” or “generational” in terms of prospects, the more you can notice some commonalities. We’ll take a look at one a bit later, but this is very interesting. The 2020 draft was criticized for its quality before it took off. You can see that six players from international leagues were selected in the first round. LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton made the leap of faith into the NBL. We all remember the Killian Hayes hive vaulting him into Top 10 consideration. Deni Avdija was a highly regarded international prospect. Aleksej Pokusevski looked to be the next in line from the unicorn tree. Leandro Bolmaro was a player I really enjoyed and supported the first round selection.
With this coming draft getting a lot of jabs for being weak, can you take a guess on whether or not there will be more players taken from international leagues than on average? Check this out:
To be honest, my count of five could be underselling how many international league players could be taken in the first round—I just want to give the college prospects a chance to prove my projections correct. Regardless, most of these outlets feel that this is going to be an above-average class in terms of talent coming into the NBA from other pro leagues. Another point to make within this segment is that there are even more players from other nations that are playing college basketball that look to be taken in the first round this year. Check out the names of players who are playing in other pro leagues this season to check in on from time to time:
G League / OTE
While the international path has done wonders for providing a way for highly touted basketball prospects to make the NBA without the negatives that can come with committing to a university, other programs have risen to prominence. The NBA implemented the G League Ignite program as a way to provide development within a system that closely mirrors what those players should expect once they’ve been drafted. The Ignite program was created in 2020 and it has produced seven first round draft picks, with several more taken in the second. The following season, the Overtime Elite, or OTE, launched. After an encouraging first season, the OTE has given Amen and Ausar Thompson a pathway to become a first round pick. Dominick Barlow was not drafted, but he still found a way to become a rotational player for the San Antonio Spurs.
As is the case with most new things, NBA teams were hesitant to jump at the chance of drafting every prospect coming through those programs. However, those first few seasons have laid the groundwork for more prospects to declare to these alternate pathways—having the confidence that teams are seeing the success of their forebearers and are more willing to draft them in the first round. This season could, perhaps, be the deepest of such alt-path players:
It’s apparent that these alternate pathways to the association have been positive enough to see an upward trajectory in the number of prospects playing for them being selected and projected as first round draft picks. It’s also encouraging to see the number of different prospects from the Ignite program being projected as first round talents. Ron Holland, Matas Buzelis, and Izan Almansa will be big board mainstays in the early going, but several different outlets are buying two or three other names as likely fellow first rounders. Take a look at some of the names that are tops for their programs:
I know that there will be some fundamental differences in how people classify the guard position. That’s okay. I believe that the numbers are still going to be roughly the same based on each person’s analysis of past drafts. Ten is an interesting number, though, when trying to determine the number of guards that might go in any given year. One subcategory that would be interesting is the number of players that are sub-6’4”. It has been made abundantly clear by myself—and everyone else in the draft space—how hard it is to clear that threshold and have a steady role in the NBA. Only a few prospects within this current draft class will fall within that criteria, and it will be fascinating to see how the discourse surrounding them changes as the draft calendar marches on. Let’s see how other outlets are projecting the guards:
The Ringer: 10
My Board: 8
It’s beginning to get a little interesting to see how these boards begin to mirror what recent trends have shown. SI and I seem to be more in line with this current class and how we project the guards in this class. Even still, the number of guards in my current big board isn’t earth-shatteringly low, as eight guards were also taken in the 2018 and 2022 drafts. On top of the freshmen guards that were listed above, I’ll drop some of the returners that are worth monitoring this season:
What we as a basketball community would consider to be “wing” players are sort of an endangered species. A lot has been made of the importance of the big man in the NBA, as well as the traditional-sized guards—even the four, but the traditional wing has waxed and waned as much as any position. Roster construction trends have shown that the best way to build a team is to stack big-bodied forwards around the court to create open driving lanes for jumbo creators to run pick-and-rolls with uber-talented bigs. That being said, wings are still valuable in the league; if a team hits on selecting one, their offense can be all the more difficult to stop. How are outlets projecting ‘24 wing prospects? Let’s see:
This class is full of wing prospects and, right now, could be the deepest class at that position compared to the last six. What’s great is the variety of wing players that can be found. No outlet projects to have less than six wings taken in the first round, which is the average. The Athletic seems to agree that this class could be the deepest we’ve seen on the wing in quite some time. Here are some more wings to take note of:
As I stated earlier, forwards are seemingly always in demand. In my piece last week, I wrote about how “Utility Forwards” are the most sought-after and most successful player types over the past five draft classes. This class has been criticized in the early going, in terms of talent, for the “strength” or “quality” it has. Let’s see how outlets are projecting the forwards—it may give some explanation as to why this class is being critiqued:
I think we’ve found the smoking gun here. Many outlets have the number of forwards going in the first round beneath the lowest number selected in the past six drafts. Even with SI and myself projecting eight forwards being selected in the first round, that number is the lowest in the past few years—tying with the 2020 class. Funnily enough, that class was also projected to be “weak” as well. Now, that class has produced three All-Stars—the same as the 2019 class featuring Zion Williamson. Let’s take a peek at some of the forwards that haven’t been listed yet:
It’s only natural that big men receive the fewest amount of picks taken in a draft. Only one player occupies the position on the court at a time—as opposed to two guards, a wing or two depending on the roster construction, and a forward or two based on the team. I am a firm believer that you cannot just “go and get a big” in free agency. The impact of a skilled big man can be severely underappreciated. That being said, the number of bigs taken in the first round of drafts has gone down over the past few. Will the 2024 draft class buck that trend? Here’s what the consensus is saying in the early going:
Many of these outlets project that this class will be above average in terms of the number of big men who project to be selected in the first round of the coming draft. Players like Alex Sarr in this class might be a player that people evaluate differently as to whether they are “bigs” or not. Other players like Izan Almansa and Kyle Filipowski are bigger forwards, and people can disagree about what position they play at the next level. Again, differences are okay and something that needs to be encouraged to help sharpen one’s scouting eye. Here are some other big men prospects that haven’t been mentioned yet that should be on your database:
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