For any team looking for immediate PG help in the draft it really comes down to, “Do we draft Kris Dunn early, trade down and go with Denzel Valentine or grab a young big early and draft Gary Payton II later?” At least those are the questions they should be pondering. I know that I’m higher on Payton than most, but I feel he is a legit option for any team looking for immediate PG help. The rest of the PGs in this draft just aren’t very impressive. I’ll get to them in a later piece, but I want to start the 2016 draft preview by looking at these 3 PGs, who I feel pretty strongly are the top 3 PGs available in this draft.
The 2016 draft is one that could go either way as far as overall greatness/badness. Neither of the two players on top, Simmons and Ingram, is a sure thing. There are a lot, and I mean a whole friggin’ lot, of promising young bigs. But they all have issues that make them risky. The most intriguing subplot to me are these 3 veteran PGs. Like the young bigs all are high floor/ceiling players. But they’re older and all would probably be helped out by a good situation more so than most prospects.
Kris Dunn, Providence: Dunn is actually a 4th-year junior, only 4 months younger than Valentine. For that reason his upside isn’t as high as what might be thought. Dunn came into college ball as a top 25 prospect in 2013. He struggled at first and sat out most of his second year with injury. Last year he started to show the promise he came in with. Now the mocks call him a likely top 5 pick.
There was another year after the freshman year where he was limited to 4 games because of injury. I didn’t include that. Dunn’s defense looks very solid. Between his near 6’10” wingspan and his stellar ballhawking skills, Dunn has all-league potential as a defender. He’s a pass first PG who racks up both a lot of assists and TOs. A high number of TOs isn’t a problem is they come with as many assists as Dunn has. His offense is a concern. He got the 2PP over .500 just once, during his sophomore year. He’s decent from behind the arc. He looks like a good defense/shaky offense PG at least to start.
I choosing between the two, I would prefer a prospect with Dunn’s skill set/stat line over a prospect with good offense/shaky defense. Offense seems easier to develop, while defense is more a constant. A high steals or RSB40 numbers like Dunn has consistently posted is a sign of the next level athleticism necessary for NBA success. The question remains whether he can get the offense up to snuff. Because he is a player who has improved a lot during his college career and made himself into a potential top 5 pick after some early struggles, Dunn seems like the type of player who can get there.
Kris Dunn is the top PG in this draft. I like both Payton and Valentine a lot, but Payton’s age and thin resume and Valentine’s defense are bigger concerns to me than Dunn’s erratic offense and high turnovers. With Dunn you’re getting a superior defender with good passing skills who can run an offense and knock down a 3-pointer well enough. If the rest of his offense develops, he’ll be an all-star. That’s a legit top 5 prospect. In answering the question at the top of the piece, I would go ahead and draft Kris Dunn with that top 5 pick.
Denzel Valentine, Michigan State: Valentine is a 4-year regular from a powerhouse program. His first 3 seasons were spent as a supporting player before he blossomed his senior year, winning AP POY and finishing 2nd to Buddy Hield for the Naismith award. Valentine’s breakout season came when he got the PG position to himself after playing 2nd fiddle for 3 seasons to Keith Appling and Travis Trice.
There haven’t been a lot of seasons like Valentine’s. His stat line is a mix of dominant numbers and red flags. Despite the red flags the fact that he averaged over 9.0 R40 and A40 in the same season makes him a very intriguing prospect. Those are Magic Johnson type of numbers and we have to respect that. Here are Valentine’s career numbers:
The big minus is the 2PP consistently below .500. The good is he has improved fairly dramatically during his career. He used to be a weak scorer, but now he’s actually efficient, even with the low 2PP, when considering that a large percentage of his attempts are 3-pointers. A scoring negative is he doesn’t get to the line a lot, only 3.83 FTA40, a very low number for a player who scored as much as he did. His steals are also on the low side for a guard prospect. The positives are the rebounding skills, steady improvement as a 3-point shooter and the high assists as a senior. I’ll also throw over improvement into the positives, as a player who improves is a player who is working on his game and such a skill will serve his pro career well.
The nagging thing to me is the low 2PP. In general guard prospects should be over .500. The consistently low numbers suggests Valentine will struggle to score inside the arc at the next level. The fact that he’s smart and long with a 6’10” wingspan tells me he might be able to overcome this weakness with work.
In looking for recent comps, Valentine is as difficult a match as they come. Most high assist players have been smaller players whose prospect flaw was low defensive numbers. Players like Aaron Miles, Marcus Williams and Kendall Marshall are a few that come to mind. Valentine is big for a PG and posted consistently high RSB40s. I looked through recent PGs who have made the jump from the NCAA to the NBA after a high assist/low 2PP college career. I found 3 who aren’t a real close match for Valentine but show that success can happen with such a mix of stats.
Williams is a 3-time all-star and probably the all-star with the least impressive college stats ever. Vasquez forged a decent journeyman career and Dellavedova has found a niche as an annoying pest defender on a contender. None had anywhere near the numbers Valentine posted. All were what would be considered more of a “pure” PG than Valentine is now.
Even after looking through the numbers, Valentine remains a difficult player to nail down. Dominant in some ways, but the concern that he isn’t a good fit in the league is legit. I’m optimistic about Valentine’s chances for NBA success. While he isn’t a traditional PG, the NBA isn’t the league it used to be only a few years ago. Ball movement is big and his passing skills should be a huge asset to most offenses. Three-point shooting is a must for any contender and Valentine has topped .400 for the past 2 seasons on 479 total attempts. Defensively he might struggle to cover the quicker guards, but the fact that he’s a smart guy with a strong work ethic and great length tells me potentially he could guard any one of the 3 wing positions adequately.
Denzel Valentine comes with some risk, but the upside is pretty high. While they aren’t similar players I think of him like another former Spartan, Draymond Green. Green was a guy who no one was sure where he’d fit, but he came in boasting some impressive numbers, a team-first attitude and a great work ethic. Like Valentine this year Green was coming off a senior season at Michigan State where he earned first team All-American honors after 3 season of playing a supporting role on Spartan powerhouse teams. I could see Valentine playing such a role on some NBA team, though more on the perimeter than inside like Green. Denzel Valentine is worthy of a top 10 pick.
Gary Payton II, Oregon State: Like Valentine, Payton is a senior star who took some time to become the prospect he is now. Had his numbers the past couple of years come as a freshman and sophomore he’d be a top 5 pick. Instead he posted them as a junior college transfer who was a year older than most of his class. Being a 5th-year senior is definitely a negative. Payton II will turn 24 in December. He was born in the same calendar year as Kyrie Irving, a 5-year NBA vet. So this isn’t a player a team should draft with upside in mind.
What Payton does bring are some stats that when posted at an NCAA power conference school have translated into a long NBA career with a decent chance of becoming an all-star. Here are Payton’s numbers from the past couple of seasons:
|Gary Payton II||2PP||3PP||P40||A40||S40||A/TO||RSB40|
The two big numbers here are that he’s over .500 on 2PP and 10.0 on RSB40. Here is a list I have posted over the years. The problem is it is getting to be an old list with not a lot of current players represented.
|Gary Payton II||520||314||18.8||5.9||3.0||2.2||12.8|
There are 4 all-stars here. Murdock and Shaw were solid journeymen. The two most recent additions to this list, Smart and Wright, are far from the stars the top 4 became, but are still young enough that the jury is still out on both. Right now Smart has struggled as a rotation player in Boston, while Wright had some strong numbers in the D-league and in very low minutes in his rookie season. Both hold some promise, but as the most recent members of the .500/10.0 club they’re hardly advancing the theory that such players are a lock for NBA success. For Payton, this makes him somewhat less intriguing. Smart and Wright have both struggled with 3-point shooting and that is Payton’s biggest weakness.
The positive spin on Payton II is he’s a player who posted some strong numbers that have been historically very good for PG prospects. Whether these are still bellwether stats of great PGs or not remains to be seen, but they do show that Payton II is a player with NBA level athleticism. He has done this for both his seasons at a major college. I’ll add that he made some nice improvement during his senior season. He became a solid PG after having been a SG his entire career. He even made slight improvement as a shooter. Improvement shows a hard worker and that’s a skill that will help any career.
This isn’t as impressive as it may have been before the struggles of Smart and Wright may have exposed the .500/10.0 club being a lock for NBA success theory as a small sample aberration. The changing league thing probably has something to do with this as well. Passing , shooting and the ability to work and move within in an offense as much as leading one are now the important skills a PG prospect must bring.
I still like Payton as a prospect, though nowhere near as much as I did earlier in the year. His age is a huge negative, as is his shaky 3-point shooting. But he’s also a player who clearly brings NBA-level athleticism, strong defense and good finishing skills. I feel he can help an NBA backcourt right away with those skills alone. He doesn’t have the upside of Dunn or the intrigue of Valentine, but he looks like he has the tools to develop into a useful NBA PG.