If the 2017 NBA Finals proved anything, it’s that two-way players are more valuable than ever. Well, “proved” might be the wrong word. Let’s go with “reinforced.” Guys with offensive skill and defensive warts, or vice versa, can be helpful over the course of an 82-game season, but against the best teams, they are exposed.
We live in a world where Tony Snell could command a $50 million contract in free agency this summer. He can defend multiple positions and shoot. Those two skills alone can make players hot commodities in this NBA environment.
Let’s apply this way of thinking to the upcoming draft. Since we’re in the golden age of point guards, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to win playing two traditional big men at once, wings are at a premium. We may be at the point where a C-plus-level wing will be taken higher than a B-level big man. In a vacuum, T.J. Leaf is a better player than D.J. Wilson, but Wilson has the potential to be a capable 3-point shooter who can defend multiple positions. In Leaf’s best-case scenario, he is a lethal second-unit scorer with serious defensive flaws. Teams will likely prefer Wilson.
Here are a few more wings that could go higher than projected.
Ferguson is a good athlete with a streaky shot who averaged 4.6 points per game in Australia this past season. There are major concerns with this game: He is not much of a ballhandler, he is not very long, and we don’t know if he can defend despite his physical tools. While he shows flashes of being a good shooter, the sample size isn’t big enough to tell.
Ferguson’s best-case scenario is J.R. Smith, which may sound underwhelming until you realize Smith is one of the handful of players good enough to stay on the floor against the Warriors in the NBA Finals. Ferguson carries plenty of question marks, but if he fulfills his potential, he will be a perfect fit in today’s NBA.
Ojeleye is built like a truck, was extremely productive at SMU, and shot 42.4 percent from 3 on a hefty number of attempts as a junior. A reminder: Jae Crowder was a second-round draft pick. Ojeleye is a lot like Crowder – he won’t beat opponents off the dribble, but he is a competent floor spacer who has the strength and length to potentially guard multiple positions. Ojeleye is projected to go 25th in Draft Express’ latest mock, but don’t be surprised if he winds up in the teens.
The Malcolm Brogdon comparisons are tempting. Both were outstanding college players. Both are about 6-6 with shooting and playmaking ability. Their basketball IQs are probably their best skills; Brogdon and Hart are mediocre athletes at best, but they squeeze every last ounce of that athleticism out of their bodies. Players don’t have to be the best athletes when they’re a half a step ahead of everyone else.
Hart probably won’t be as good as Brogdon was as a rookie, but that may have more to do with fit than anything else. Milwaukee was the perfect situation for Brogdon; he thrived in Jason Kidd’s hyper-switchy system and is a natural secondary creator. If Hart can find a similar role, he could be a steal.
The measurables are awfully tasty: At 6-8, Robinson has a wiry frame and a wing span that exceeds seven feet. He’s a quick lateral athlete. He shot 39 percent from 3 at Florida as a junior. The downsides: He never averaged over an assist per game for the Gators and has little to no playmaking ability; his defensive tools are greater than his defensive impact; and we just don’t know if he’s particularly good at basketball.
But ask yourself this: Who has a better chance to stay on the floor in a crucial playoff series — likely first-rounder John Collins, a power forward who was as statistically impressive as Tim Duncan at Wake Forest but can’t defend a lick, or Robinson?
The answer: probably neither. Collins will likely have a better career, but in answering the question above, based on tools alone, the answer is Robinson. We live in a strange NBA, but it’s what makes the draft so fascinating. The top of the lottery is always the most compelling part of draft night, but the back half of the draft can shed some light on where executives see the game heading.
More NBA Coverage
- 2017 NBA Mock Draft | June Edition 2
- Harper | Danny Ainge spices up draft with trade of top pick
- Zagoria | Fultz a great complement to what 76ers have