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Pelton’s ESPN projections say Suns drafted 3 of top 16 NBA prospects

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ESPN’s Kevin Pelton developed projections for all the 2018 prospects, and predicts success for new Suns Ayton (2), Bridges (6) and Okobo (16).

ESPN’s Kevin Pelton developed an NBA prospect prediction model, recently enhanced (in his words) to give more value to wings and less value to big men, says that the Phoenix Suns just drafted three of the best 16 prospects in this year’s NBA Draft.

Deandre Ayton does not come out at the top of Pelton’s modeling, but he did come in #2 overall behind Slovenian Luka Doncic.

Pelton’s projections give Luka Doncic the biggest WAR projection (average 5.8 over his first five years in the league) since 2003.

It’s worth noting that the (almost) same projection model gave Dragan Bender a higher WAR than most anyone else in the past 5 drafts at 3.4.

In Doncic’s favor is the sheer volume of minutes he has played (evidence) while someone like Bender has to be extrapolated from relatively sparse minutes.

Pelton has recently given more value to steals, one of his ways to emphasize wings over bigs in his adjusted model.

Well, that not only bodes well that Ayton STILL came in second overall, that also bodes well for the Suns’ next two picks.

Swingman Mikal Bridges has always profiled well in statistical modeling, helping him come out 6th overall in Pelton’s rankings.

And finally, the Suns’ second round pick Elie Okobo makes out big in these projections.

Okobo, of course, dropped all the way 31. Word is that teams in the 20s inquired on Okobo staying overseas another year or so — so they would not have to pay him a guaranteed salary — but Okobo wants in the NBA right now.

He fell to the Suns at 31, who have promised to bring him to the NBA with a full-time contract and roster spot next year.

Here is a great scouting report on Elie, where he is projected as a shot-making bench guard with some point guard and defensive skills. His comps are Avery Bradley and George Hill.

In Pelton’s rankings, Okobo ranks ahead of the likes of:

  • PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who was #10 in the Top 100 and #37 in stats... and went 11th to Charlotte, who immediately traded him to the Clippers
  • PG Collin Sexton, who was #11 on the Top 100 and #37 in stats... and went 8th to the Cleveland Cavaliers

The most-time point guards who ranked ahead of Okobo in this draft were Luka Doncic (#1) and Trae Young (#3).

What does this MEAN

Okay, this same ranking has Marvin Bagley III as low as 14th and puts Dzanan Musa (one of the best players in the Adriatic league last year!) at 8th overall.

Here’s how Pelton explains it. But really it’s all about how “right” projections are.

In past years:

  • in 2017, his top five included Jonathan Isaac and Zach Collins, while top rookies Jayson Tatum came in at #6 and Donovan Mitchell ranked #17 behind Monte Morris and Justin Patton. The Suns’ Josh Jackson was projected #8 overall.
  • In 2016, they predicted the Suns’ Dragan Bender at #2 overall behind Ben Simmons, and Zhou Qi (remember him?) at #5. They had Jaylen Brown all the way down at #28 overall, and ROY Malcolm Brogdon checked in at #61. The Suns’ Marquese Chriss ranked #13 and Tyler Ulis #17.
  • In 2015, they got the model fairly well right (except Frank Kaminsky at #6). Except the Suns’ Devin Booker checked in at only #20 overall due to his small role in one year in college.
  • In 2014, Marcus Smart had the highest overall projection, ranking #1 overall just ahead of Joel Embiid. They had Tyler Ennis up at #13, ahead of Gary Harris, Dario Saric and Zach LaVine. T.J. Warren checked in at #25.
  • In 2013, they had Nerlens Noel #1, just ahead of Anthony Bennett #2. They had the Suns’ Alex Len all the way down at 20th, just behind Rudy Gobert (18) and Kelly Olynyk (19). The model guessed low on Robert Covington (31). The Suns’ Archie Goodwin ranked 69.

So there are hits. And there are misses.

Just like with scouting. Just like with eyeball tests. Just like with anything.