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The Top 50 NBA Draft Prospects, According To Our CARMELO Projections

The NBA doesn’t waste much time before moving on. The 2018-19 season has been over for less than a week, and the Toronto Raptors are still picking up the debris from their jubilant1 championship parade. And yet, Thursday’s NBA draft will mark the de facto beginning to the 2019-20 season. So we at FiveThirtyEight are also wasting no time: We’ve fired up our CARMELO projection system and run the numbers looking ahead to the next season and beyond. We’re still making some tweaks and improvements to the way we’re projecting veteran players, so we’ll be rolling out those numbers sometime in the next few weeks. But for rookies, we have the data, and the CARMELO computer is all ready to go. Let’s take a look at the best statistical prospects whose names should be called from the podium by Adam Silver.

First, though, a little refresher on how this works. CARMELO (the Career-Arc Regression Model Estimator with Local Optimization) is our system for predicting the career of each NBA player, based on how things tended to pan out for similar players from the past. For rookies, we use a database of college stats (adjusted for pace and strength of schedule) since 2001 provided to us by ESPN’s Stats & Information Group, plus biographical information like a player’s height, weight, age and — before the draft — scouting rankings.2 Those latter few categories actually matter quite a bit, so older players and those regarded poorly by the scouts will need much, much better college stats to achieve the same projection as a younger player who scores better on the eye test.

Like we did last year, we’ll be ranking the members of this draft class on each player’s “upside” wins above replacement — the number of wins he’s expected to add above a minimum-salary replacement (at the same position) over the first seven seasons of his career, zeroing out seasons in which he is projected for negative WAR.3 One big disclaimer: These rankings don’t include players from overseas leagues, such as Sekou Doumbouya (who played in France), nor do they include players who didn’t accumulate enough time in college, like potential Top 5-pick Darius Garland, who logged only 139 minutes as a freshman at Vanderbilt because of a knee injury. We don’t have a good sample of data on these kinds of players, so CARMELO can’t really render an assessment right now (though we will eventually assign them ratings for our team depth charts next season).

Anyway, let’s move on to the rankings:

‘Stats + Scouts’ CARMELO projections for 2019 NBA draft

Most valuable NBA players from 2020-26, according to CARMELO’s upside wins above replacement projections, using college stats and scouting

Comparable Players
Rk Player Pos Age* Scout Rk Upside WAR No. 1 No. 2
1 Zion Williamson PF 19 1 36.7 J. Okafor M. Bagley
2 Ja Morant PG 20 2 25.4 T. Burke J. Wall
3 Jarrett Culver SG 20 6 17.1 J. Forte H. Barnes
4 Jaxson Hayes C 19 9 15.8 Z. Collins D. Davis
5 RJ Barrett SG 19 3 15.4 C. Anthony D. Russell
6 Coby White SG 19 10 8.9 B. Knight C. Sexton
7 Brandon Clarke PF 23 12 8.0 D. Lee N. Collison
8 T. Horton-Tucker SF 19 21 8.0 T. Ariza G. Wallace
9 Tyler Herro SG 20 17 7.5 M. Beasley J. Lamb
10 Bol Bol C 20 13 7.1 S. Hawes H. Ellenson
11 Kevin Porter Jr. SG 19 14 6.3 X. Henry L. Walker
12 Cam Reddish SF 20 7 5.9 H. Barnes T. Young
13 Matisse Thybulle SF 22 28 5.9 D. Miller N. Powell
14 De’Andre Hunter PF 22 5 5.7 M. Morris A. Bennett
15 N. A.-Walker SG 21 23 5.6 S. Brown P. McCaw
16 Grant Williams PF 21 24 5.1 M. Sweetney T. Murphy
17 Chuma Okeke PF 21 41 4.8 O. Spellman J. Martin
18 Jontay Porter C 20 42 4.7 C. Wood S. Zimmerman
19 Ty Jerome SG 22 29 4.5 T. Bowers W. Ellington
20 Romeo Langford SF 20 11 4.5 A. Rivers D. DeRozan
21 Nassir Little SF 19 16 4.2 Q. Miller K. Oubre
22 PJ Washington PF 21 15 4.0 R. H.-Jefferson B. Portis
23 Shamorie Ponds PG 21 49 4.0 S. Mack J. Robinson
24 Tremont Waters PG 22 47 3.4 P. Jackson M. Banks
25 Dylan Windler SF 23 33 3.3 J. Kapono M. Bonner
26 Keldon Johnson SF 20 20 3.2 M. Beasley D. DeRozan
27 John Konchar SG 23 68 3.0 D. Wells M. Gansey
28 Charles Bassey+ C 19 51 2.6 T. Bryant J. Allen
29 Isaiah Roby PF 21 36 2.5 D. Brown J. Martin
30 Dedric Lawson PF 22 44 2.4 J. Green M. Muscala
31 Carsen Edwards PG 21 25 2.4 G. Diaz K. Martin
32 Luguentz Dort SG 20 27 2.3 M. Richardson A. Goodwin
33 Josh Reaves SG 22 81 2.3 I. Cousins J. Richardson
34 Bruno Fernando C 21 34 2.2 T. Bryant D. Sabonis
35 Daniel Gafford C 21 38 2.2 C. Taft R. Hendrix
36 Rui Hachimura PF 21 18 1.9 M. Haislip T. Warren
37 Nicolas Claxton C 20 40 1.7 S. Zimmerman S. Dalembert
38 Cameron Johnson PF 23 22 1.7 M. Bonner S. Novak
39 Devon Dotson+ PG 20 73 1.6 C. Joseph T. Green
40 A. Schofield SF 22 32 1.6 Q. Pondexter J. Harper
41 Jalen McDaniels PF 22 37 1.5 J. Martin B. Bentil
42 Q. Weatherspoon SG 23 57 1.5 D. Wells S. Thornwell
43 A.J. Lawson+ SG 19 86 1.4 L. Stephenson A. Goodwin
44 KZ Okpala SF 20 26 1.3 J. Johnson W. Chandler
45 Justin Robinson PG 22 52 1.3 Q. Cook D. Walton
46 Ky Bowman PG 21 85 1.2 B. Wright S. Mack
47 Louis King SF 20 35 1.2 D. Greene M. Williams
48 Terence Davis SG 22 79 1.1 M. Brooks B. Paul
49 Jaylen Nowell SG 20 92 1.0 S. Landesberg D. Washington
50 Donta Hall PF 22 97 1.0 J. Grant M. Estill

Not including European players or point guard Darius Garland (who played only five career college games). Upside WAR ignores a player’s projected below-replacement seasons.

* Ages are as of Feb. 1, 2020.

+ Player has withdrawn from consideration for the 2019 draft.

Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group

Unsurprisingly, Duke’s Zion Williamson ranks No. 1 in our prospect ratings with a massive upside WAR of 36.7 projected wins over his first seven pro seasons. To give that number a sense of scale, last year’s top projected prospect — Texas’s Mohamed Bamba — led the pack with an upside rating of just 21.8 WAR, so it’s fair to say that Williamson is a significantly better prospect than we’ve seen the past few years (if not much longer than that).

We’re not exactly going out on a limb with our projection: Zion is the top choice in basically every mock draft on the planet. But it’s always nice when the numbers back up the overwhelming consensus of opinion. During his lone season at Duke, Williamson rated better than the median Division I player in every major facet of the game according to the advanced metrics, headlined by a 93rd percentile usage rate and a 100th percentile true shooting percentage. His top comparable player — another former Blue Devil, Jahlil Okafor, whose career has largely underwhelmed — might be concerning, but it mainly speaks to how unique Zion is. The 0-100 scaled “similarity score” between Williamson and Okafor is just 37.1, meaning they’re not very similar at all. (By comparison, the similarity between Zion’s teammate RJ Barrett and model-namesake Carmelo Anthony is a healthy 60.1, which is normal for a top comp.) Simply put, Williamson is a unicorn. We’ve seldom seen a player quite like Zion, who is very short for his position but has great stats across the board (even in terms of rebounds, blocks and steals) and scores so often with such incredible efficiency.

Another unsurprising result is the presence of Murray State’s Ja Morant at No. 2 overall. Morant enjoyed a breakout sophomore campaign with the Racers, culminating in a triple-double in an impressive NCAA Tournament win over Marquette. To be sure, Morant has flaws in his game (he needs to work on efficiency in terms of both shooting and turnovers), and his upside projection isn’t on Williamson’s level, but he would have been CARMELO’s best prospect of last season, and some of Morant’s top comps — such as John Wall and Derrick Rose — offer a glimpse into his star potential.

After Williamson and Morant, there is a huge drop-off before the next group of prospects. Jarrett Culver of Texas Tech, Jaxson Hayes of Texas and Barrett form a clear-cut second tier below Williamson and Morant, and each comes with his own strengths and weaknesses. Hayes is a low-usage, high-efficiency big man who can protect the rim but is a work in progress on offense beyond finishing plays made by others. (Brandan Wright comes to mind as an archetype.) Barrett is a low-efficiency, high-usage swingman with unimpressive defensive indicators, in the mold of Anthony, Andrew Wiggins or Brandon Ingram. Barrett does come with a good amount of upside, in terms of potential value several years into his career, but he also looks like this draft’s best example of a high-risk/high-reward prospect who may just turn into an inefficient high-volume scorer (that classic bane of every stathead). And Culver is a nice all-around wing whose best-case comps include Harrison Barnes and Rudy Gay. Noted bust Joseph Forte isn’t the most encouraging comparison, but Culver’s versatility is a big plus as a small forward prospect.

The rest of the draft class drops off steeply after Barrett at No. 5 in our rankings. Some of the players who might be drafted highly but our model isn’t as fond of include Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter (fifth in the scout rankings vs. 14th in our projections), Duke’s Cam Reddish (seventh vs. 12th), Indiana’s Romeo Langford (11th vs. 20th) and Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura (18th vs. 36th). By contrast, players who might be underrated in the draft include Shamorie Ponds of St. John’s (49th by the scouts vs. 23rd in our rankings), Auburn’s Chuma Okeke (41st vs. 17th), Jontay Porter of Missouri (42nd vs. 18th), Matisse Thybulle of Washington (28th vs. 13th), Tyler Herro of Kentucky (17th vs. ninth) and Iowa State’s Talen Horton-Tucker (21st vs. eighth).

Just for the sake of comparison (and transparency), here’s a version of our upside WAR rankings that doesn’t include the scouting rankings as an input,4 which can be viewed as a sort of “stats only” ranking of the prospects this year:

‘Pure stats’ CARMELO projections for 2019 NBA draft

Most valuable NBA players from 2020-26, according to CARMELO’s upside wins above replacement projections, using only college stats

Comparable Players
Rk Player Pos Age* Scout Rk Upside WAR No. 1 No. 2
1 Zion Williamson PF 19 1 29.5 J. Okafor M. Bagley
2 Jaxson Hayes C 19 9 14.1 Z. Collins D. Stone
3 T. Horton-Tucker SF 19 21 10.9 G. Wallace T. Ariza
4 Ja Morant PG 20 2 10.8 J. Farmar N. Calathes
5 Jontay Porter C 20 42 9.8 T. Lyles C. Wood
6 Charles Bassey+ C 19 51 9.6 C. Bosh D. Favors
7 Bol Bol C 20 13 8.5 G. Oden M. Beasley
8 Jarrett Culver SG 20 6 8.5 J. Forte K. C.-Pope
9 Tyler Herro SG 20 17 7.6 M. Beasley G. Trent
10 Shamorie Ponds PG 21 49 7.5 K. Walker J. Williams
11 RJ Barrett SG 19 3 7.4 R. Vaughn M. Fultz
12 Chuma Okeke PF 21 41 7.2 O. Spellman J. Richardson
13 Devon Dotson+ PG 20 73 7.0 T. Jones M. Conley
14 Tremont Waters PG 22 47 6.8 P. Jackson M. Banks
15 Coby White SG 19 10 6.7 B. Knight D. Rose
16 Kevin Porter Jr. SG 19 14 6.5 Z. LaVine J. Richmond
17 John Konchar SG 23 68 6.2 M. Gansey F. Jones
18 A.J. Lawson+ SG 19 86 6.1 A. Goodwin T. Brown
19 N. A.-Walker SG 21 23 5.7 D. Mitchell S. Brown
20 Josh Reaves SG 22 81 5.6 J. Trepagnier J. Richardson
21 Grant Williams PF 21 24 5.3 M. Sweetney M. Bridges
22 Donta Hall PF 22 97 4.7 J. Augustine J. Bell
23 Ty Jerome SG 22 29 4.7 S. Weems T. Bowers
24 Daniel Gafford C 21 38 4.7 R. Williams J. Poeltl
25 Nassir Little SF 19 16 4.6 Q. Miller T. Harris
26 Jaylen Nowell SG 20 92 4.6 J. Forte J. Okogie
27 Matisse Thybulle SF 22 28 4.3 D. Miller J. Richardson
28 Ky Bowman PG 21 85 4.1 K. Walker J. Robinson
29 Bruno Fernando C 21 34 4.0 J. Poeltl D. Sabonis
30 Brandon Clarke PF 23 12 4.0 T. Booker P. M.-Bonsu
31 Jaylen Hands PG 20 93 4.0 M. Williams K. Satterfield
32 Cam Reddish SF 20 7 3.6 M. Richardson X. Henry
33 Keldon Johnson SF 20 20 3.6 D. DeRozan M. Beasley
34 Dedric Lawson PF 22 44 3.5 M. Muscala J. Green
35 Terence Davis SG 22 79 3.5 M. Brooks B. Paul
36 Nicolas Claxton C 20 40 3.5 R. Lopez A. Len
37 Romeo Langford SF 20 11 3.4 A. Rivers M. Williams
38 Dylan Windler SF 23 33 3.3 J. Kapono S. Battier
39 Luguentz Dort SG 20 27 3.3 A. Rivers M. Richardson
40 Isaiah Roby PF 21 36 3.2 T. Williams J. Gist
41 PJ Washington PF 21 15 2.9 J. Martin R. H.-Jefferson
42 Q. Weatherspoon SG 23 57 2.8 B. Hield D. Wells
43 Zach Norvell Jr. SG 22 77 2.7 W. Ellington J. Meeks
44 J. Cumberland SG 22 94 2.6 J. Crawford M. Brooks
45 Carsen Edwards PG 21 25 2.6 B. Gordon G. Diaz
46 Justin Robinson PG 22 52 2.5 A. Holiday B. Stepp
47 Quentin Grimes+ SG 19 84 2.5 A. Bradley H. Diallo
48 Killian Tillie+ C 21 90 2.4 E. Murphy D. Brown
49 Jalen McDaniels PF 22 37 2.3 J. Gist J. Martin
50 DaQuan Jeffries SG 22 55 2.3 J. Cage R. Terry

Not including European players or point guard Darius Garland (who played only five career college games). Upside WAR ignores a player’s projected below-replacement seasons.

*Ages are as of Feb. 1, 2020.

+ Player has withdrawn from consideration for the 2019 draft.

Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group

There are a few differences near the top: Hayes and Horton-Tucker leapfrog Morant as the best prospects behind Williamson (CARMELO really appears to love Horton-Tucker), while Culver and Barrett tumble in favor of efficient, rim-protector-type bigs such as Porter and Oregon’s Bol Bol, the 7-foot-2 of son of Manute Bol. I wouldn’t start using these rankings to make my picks if I were an NBA general manager — it’s been shown that scouting rankings are easily the most predictive component any draft projection can add. But they are still somewhat interesting in terms of helping to identify undervalued players whom the eye test alone might miss.

And it’s telling that Wiliamson still emerges as the clear-cut No. 1 prospect regardless of whether we’re looking only at statistics or a hybrid between metrics and scouting information. The guy is probably going to be pretty dope in the NBA, and Morant might not be far behind as the likely No. 2 pick. After that, there are a few more solid choices and then a whole bunch of uncertainty. That’s pretty standard for the NBA draft, where potential value drops off quickly after the first pick or two — but this year’s class might be unusually top-heavy even by basketball’s normal standards.



CORRECTION (June 20, 2019, 3:15 p.m.): A previous version of this article listed Western Kentucky’s Charles Bassey as a prospect for the 2019 NBA draft. Bassey withdrew his name from draft consideration on May 29.

Footnotes

  1. And surprisingly violent.

  2. After the draft, we’ll switch those to a player’s actual draft position.

  3. This is done to avoid penalizing players for situations where, in reality, their coach would (or at least should) bench them before they accumulate negative value.

  4. Specifically, every player is assigned a scout ranking equivalent to the No. 10 prospect.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

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