The Draft Files Mailbag: Our Model’s NBA Player Comparisons (Part 1)
NBA

The Draft Files Mailbag: Our Model’s NBA Player Comparisons (Part 1)

Let’s face it: The NBA draft is REALLY difficult. 

There are many moving parts and pieces, none of which provide a high degree of certainty. While scouting, film study, statistical analysis, anthropometric measurements, athletic testing, background/intel and medical all play key roles in developing a well-rounded evaluation of a prospect, sometimes one simple thing can help bring to light what a prospect may translate to at the next level – comps. Yes, that’s right, COMPS.

While reckless comparisons of draft prospects to NBA stars are often lazily thrown around without much thought or care, well-devised comparisons backed by years of historical data can help contextualize a plausible range of career trajectories, roles and styles of play for a given prospect.

Our NBA draft model not only projects broadscale value contribution of prospects at the NBA level, but also produces an output of player comparisons. Without revealing too much under the hood, the similarity score outputs are Euclidean distance-based, effectively digesting an array of on-court statistical inputs (as well as height weight, age, position, and draft pick/rank) and deriving which players are most similar based on differences in standard deviations (with some nuanced weighting and other adjustments).

The model produces 10 comparisons per prospect, but five of those have been chosen for our purposes. We’ve opted to lean toward comps with the shortest calculated Euclidean distance, with some qualitative exceptions. The comparable player population is comprised of players who were drafted or rostered in the NBA, G League, or NBA Summer League from 2005-20 and played NCAA Division I basketball prior to draft entry.

Here’s a look at the comparisons for projected draftees who were submitted by followers via our Twitter mailbag last week. Again, the top of the list represents the most similar comps at the time they were drafted:

Scottie Barnes NBA draft profile
Florida State guard Scottie Barnes (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Scottie Barnes | Florida State | Fr. | Forward | 6’9” | 227 lbs. | Consensus Rank: 6th

  1. Kris Dunn
  2. Iman Shumpert
  3. Russell Westbrook
  4. Jrue Holiday
  5. Troy Brown

A quirky list to accompany a unique, odd-ball prospect. Barnes functioned as a point-forward of sorts for Florida State this season, with much of his value being derived as a creator for others and a versatile defensive stalwart.

Given this profile, it’s no surprise to see the likes of defensive menaces Dunn, Shumpert and Holiday, as well as fellow point-forward odd-ball prospect, Troy Brown. Westbrook being sandwiched in the middle may come as a bit more of a surprise, suggesting some star upside potential.

Keon Johnson NBA draft profile
Tennessee wing Keon Johnson (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Keon Johnson | Tennessee | Fr. | Wing | 6’5” | 186 lbs. | Consensus Rank: 7th

  1. Archie Goodwin
  2. Russell Westbrook
  3. Victor Oladipo
  4. Derrick Rose
  5. Dejounte Murray

Johnson’s perceived high-ceiling/low-floor draft stock is exemplified in this array of comparisons. 

He’s most statistically similar to former Kentucky one-and-done combo guard Archie Goodwin, who was a first-round pick in the 2013 NBA draft and didn’t even make it through his rookie contract. Goodwin started only 15 games over three-plus seasons, posting underwhelming career marks of 6.3 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game on an inefficient 45.5 eFG%. A scary comparison floor to say the least.

Throughout the rest of the list, however, you see why many scouts find Johnson’s upside tantalizing. Sharing statistical similarities with this array of uber-athletic MVP’s, All-Stars and solid defensive guards is certainly indicative of a high ceiling.

Franz Wagner NBA draft profile
Michigan guard Franz Wagner (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Franz Wagner | Michigan | So. | Wing | 6’9” | 220 lbs. | Consensus Rank: 9th

  1. Otto Porter Jr.
  2. Mikal Bridges
  3. Josh Green
  4. Devin Vassell
  5. Chuma Okeke

There is quite the array of rangy, multi-faceted, defensively-oriented wings here. This mold of player is highly sought after in the modern NBA, because it unlocks invaluable rotational/lineup flexibility. These guys can guard multiple positions, stay on the court in high-leverage moments, and ultimately catalyze winning basketball.

James Bouknight | UConn | So. | Wing | 6’5” | 190 lbs. | Consensus Rank: 11th

  1. Malik Beasley
  2. Romeo Langford
  3. Gerald Henderson
  4. Marshon Brooks
  5. Alec Burks

Bucket-getters galore. Some good, some bad, some ugly…

Moses Moody | Arkansas | Fr. | Wing | 6’6” | 205 lbs. | Consensus Rank: 12th

  1. Romeo Langford
  2. Luke Kennard
  3. Andrew Wiggins
  4. Gordon Hayward
  5. De’Andre Hunter

Isaiah Jackson | Kentucky | Fr. | Big | 6’10 ½” | 206 lbs. | Consensus Rank: 17th

  1. Tyrus Thomas
  2. Nicolas Claxton
  3. Ed Davis
  4. Larry Sanders
  5. Mo Bamba

Ziaire Williams | Stanford | Fr. | Wing | 6’8” | 187 lbs. | Consensus Rank: 19th

  1. Troy Brown
  2. KZ Okpala
  3. Khris Middleton
  4. Malachi Richardson
  5. Tyler Honeycutt

Jaden Springer | Tennessee | Fr. | Combo | 6’4” | 204 lbs. | Consensus Rank: 20th

  1. Jeff Teague
  2. Josh Okogie
  3. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
  4. Wade Baldwin IV
  5. Saben Lee
Jared Butler NBA draft profile
Baylor guard Jared Butler (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Jared Butler | Baylor | Jr. | Combo Guard | 6’3” | 190 lbs. | Consensus Rank: 21st

  1. Nickeil Alexander-Walker
  2. Shelvin Mack
  3. Malachi Flynn
  4. Aaron Holiday
  5. Ty Jerome

Consistent, reliable, savvy, well-rounded, guards often find themselves in the late first round discussion. While this mold of prospect may not have sky-high upside, coaches love having an extension of themselves at their disposal to run second units, control the pace and make good decisions.

Will Butler ever be an All-Star? Unlikely. Will he ever score more than 20 points per game in the NBA? Doubtful. Will he carve out a role as a productive, valuable starter, sixth man, or key rotation player for a playoff team? Wouldn’t bet against it.

Sharife Cooper | Auburn | Fr. | Lead Guard | 6’1” | 180 lbs. | Consensus Rank: 22nd

  1. Collin Sexton
  2. Dennis Smith Jr.
  3. Edmond Sumner
  4. De’Aaron Fox
  5. Jawun Evans

Chris Duarte | Oregon | Sr. | Wing | 6’6” | 190 lbs. | Consensus Rank: 23rd

  1. Nickeil Alexander-Walker
  2. Darrun Hilliard
  3. Quinndary Weatherspoon
  4. Caris LeVert
  5. Will Barton
Tre Mann NBA draft profile
Florida guard Tre Mann (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Tre Mann | Florida | So. | Combo Guard | 6’5” | 190 lbs. | Consensus Rank: 24th

  1. Malachi Richardson
  2. Nickeil Alexander-Walker
  3. Donte DiVincenzo
  4. Jordan Poole
  5. Khris Middleton

Way back in early March, Sam Vecenie and Matt Pennie discussed “The Malachi Effect” in an episode of The Game Theory podcast. 

The Premise: Which NBA draft prospects have the potential to hyper-inflate their draft stocks with outlier performances throughout conference tournaments and March Madness?

The Namesake: Malachi Richardson – a Syracuse freshman who parlayed four NCAA Tournament wins and an All-Region selection into being selected 22nd overall in the 2016 draft. Richardson turned out to be a bust, averaging 2.8 points on a 43.3 eFG% across less than three seasons.

Who was one of the prospects Vecenie and Pennie discussed as a potential Malachi Effect candidate? You guessed it, Mann. This poor top comparison doesn’t make for an automatic disqualifier, however, as there are several more favorable players on the rest of the list. 

The model puts more significant weighting on all prospects’ freshman seasons to provide an equal footing between one-and-dones and multi-year NCAA players. Mann stumbled out of the gates as a freshman, averaging only 5.3 points on 35.6% shooting with a 0.625 assist-to-turnover ratio, which primarily drives the Richardson comparison. 

If the Year 2 jump is for real and you believe in the trajectory of his development curve, the more favorable comparisons are certainly within the realm of possibility.

Cameron Thomas draft profile
LSU guard Cameron Thomas (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

Cameron Thomas | LSU | Fr. | Wing | 6’4” | 210 lbs. | Consensus Rank: 20th

  1. Malik Monk
  2. Shabazz Muhammad
  3. Eric Gordon
  4. Collin Sexton
  5. Alec Burks

Not the most encouraging one-two punch at the top for Thomas, although Monk has made a bit of a positive efficiency surge this season. While Sexton is a dynamite, young backcourt scorer and both Gordon and Burks have had their fair share of respectable seasons as secondary scoring off-guards, the lack of high-level NBA impact guys on this list certainly curbs some of the natural surface-level enthusiasm surrounding a freshman averaging 23.0 points. 

Day’Ron Sharpe | North Carolina | Fr. | Big | 6’11” | 265 lbs. | Consensus Rank: 28th

  1. Johnny O’Bryant III
  2. Robert Williams
  3. Jarnell Stokes
  4. Dexter Pittman
  5. Precious Achiuwa

BJ Boston | Kentucky | Fr. | Wing | 6’6 ¾” | 185 lbs. |Consensus Rank: 30th

  1. Malachi Richardson
  2. Josh Green
  3. Lonnie Walker IV
  4. Terrico White
  5. Jordan Poole
Miles McBride NBA draft profile
West Virginia’s No. 4 Miles McBride (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Miles McBride | West Virginia | So. | Combo Guard | 6’2” | 200 lbs. | Consensus Rank: 32nd

  1. Terry Rozier
  2. Josh Green
  3. Darrun Hilliard
  4. Gary Harris
  5. Patrick Beverley

Is anyone surprised to see a list of tough, hard-nosed, competitive, defensively-oriented guards aligned with a West Virginia prospect?

While McBride’s top comp had his foibles in Boston, no one ever questioned Rozier’s toughness and now his pull-up shooting is coming to form in Charlotte. McBride fits a similar mold as more of a somewhat undersized shot-creating guard who may not be a “true” point, but can add value with his tenacity and off-the-dribble shot creation.

Trey Murphy | Virginia | Jr. | Wing | 6’9” | 199 lbs. | Consensus Rank: 33rd

  1. Justinian Jessup
  2. Charlie Brown
  3. Joe Harris
  4. Cameron Reynolds
  5. Jabari Bird

Knockdown shooters with deep range, positional size, and enough ancillary skill to not be one-dimensional? Yes, please.

Terrence Shannon Jr. | Texas Tech | So. | Wing | 6’6 ¼” | 210 lbs. | Consensus Rank: 34th

  1. Josh Okogie
  2. Chris Douglas-Roberts
  3. Wesley Matthews
  4. Josh Green
  5. Chandler Hutchison

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl | Villanova | So. | Forward | 6’9” | 231 lbs. | Consensus Rank: 35th

  1. Arnett Moultrie
  2. Perry Jones III
  3. Larry Nance Jr.
  4. Jarell Martin
  5. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute

While Robinson-Earl’s top two comparisons here are nothing to write home about, the third really jumped out as a realistic NBA archetype. Let’s take a look at Nance Jr. and Robinson-Earl’s statistics in their respective pre-draft seasons:

Nance Jr.-Robinson-Earl head to head comparison

Strikingly similar. And while Nance Jr. may boast an athleticism edge (as evidenced by higher steal, block, and free throw rates), he was also nearly two years older on the day of the 2015 NBA draft than Robinson-Earl will be on the day of this year’s draft. 

Robinson-Earl’s theoretical role in the NBA figures to mirror that of Nance’s since he joined the Cleveland Cavaliers as a switchable small-ball forward/big with short-roll passing prowess and defensive rotational/event-creation acumen.

Aaron Henry draft profile
Michigan State forward Aaron Henry (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Aaron Henry | Michigan State | Jr. | Wing | 6’6” | 210 lbs. | Consensus Rank: 37th

  1. Cody Martin
  2. Lamar Patterson
  3. Solomon Hill
  4. Landry Fields
  5. Josh Richardson

While the lack of a consistently reliable 3-point jumper is more problematic than ever for wings, there is still a place in the league for wings that add value as both physical point-of-attack wing-stoppers and off-ball team defenders.

Henry and Alabama’s Herb Jones are the only wings among the consensus top 100 prospects in this class to post a 2.0-plus steal percentage and a 4.0-plus block percentage. So if the jumper comes around, look out.

Kessler Edwards | Pepperdine | Jr. | Wing | 6’8” | 210 lbs. | Consensus Rank: 48th

  1. Jake Layman
  2. Keita Bates-Diop
  3. Malik Fitts
  4. DaQuan Jeffries
  5. Vic Law

Nah’Shon Hyland | VCU | So. | Combo Guard | 6’3 ½” | 173 lbs. | Consensus Rank: 49th

  1. Zach Norvell Jr.
  2. Ian Clark
  3. Isaiah Joe
  4. Myles Powell
  5. Carsen Edwards

RaiQuan Gray | Florida State | Jr. (RS) | Forward | 6’8” | 260 lbs. | Consensus Rank: 58th

  1. Taylor Griffin
  2. Dwight Powell
  3. Isaiah Roby
  4. Josh McRoberts
  5. Juan Toscano-Anderson

Stay tuned next week for Part 2, which will feature NBA comparisons for Twitter mailbag requested sleeper prospects outside of the consensus top 60.


Data modeling provided by Matt Scott. Design by Matt Sisneros.