2020–21 Franchise Player Re-Draft, Part II

Where it always gets good.

Simon Cherin-Gordon
18 min readJan 14, 2021

Just pretend that the NBA didn’t explode yesterday and enjoy! (but first, if you haven’t, read Part I).

11. Trae Young (JS): As I wrote in Part 1, the two things I prioritized above all else when making my board were youth and ability to be a #1 on a very good offense. This Trae pick is the epitome of that philosophy. Box score stats show him averaging 29.6 ppg and 9.3 apg last season. Dig a little deeper and you notice two important things. One is that he was extremely efficient with those points, finishing in the 86th percentile in points per shot attempt compared to other point guards, per Cleaning the Glass. Additionally, the overall on/off stats check out—which account for both offense and defense—as he and was in the 90th percentile for point guards in team point differential. I think it’s important to dig into the aforementioned stats because one easy argument to make against Trae is he is a good stats, bad team type of guy. But those guys historically seem to tend to not be nearly as efficient as Trae nor post these type of on/off numbers.

To me, there is no question that Trae is going to going to continue to develop as one of the most devastating pick-and-roll threats in the NBA, if he isn’t there already. He uses a nasty high-low dribble game to read the defense, is excellent at using screens to shoot off the dribble, and his floater game may already be the best in NBA history. Also, he showed us last year that he is already an expert at drawing fouls, averaging 9.3 free throws attempts per game (more than Steph or Lillard have ever averaged at any point in their career). To sum it up, Trae can score at every single level on the court with high efficiency, making him an absolute nightmare to game-plan against.

An important important question to me, and I have heard this brought up multiple times by Zach Lowe, is how good can he become off-ball? If Trae is willing to run like a mad man around screens, he is going to draw so much attention away from the ball that everyone in your offensive ecosystem is going to benefit. And this is why so many people are interested in what we see from Trae this year. Now that he is surrounded by real NBA players, is he willing to not initiate a 100 pick-and-rolls a game and work hard to get open off ball? If he is, I see him as the engine of great offenses for the next decade, and one of the few remaining players with a clear path to being able function as a #1 on a Finals team.

12. Devin Booker (SCG): The toughest decision in this entire exercise was how to order Booker and Trae. They are so similar — young, offensively potent and versatile, defensively challenged, and yet to have any team success.

Trae is essentially a more extreme version of Booker. He’s younger, a deadlier shooter, gets to the line more, a better passer, an even worse defender, and has an even worse track record of team success.

I ultimately chose Booker because I believe there are more ways in which he can contribute to a championship team, and thus is easier to build a championship roster around. As mentioned in my Zion writeup, his 61.8 TS% was 3rd in the NBA among players with 30% usage or higher, trailing only Lillard and Harden. He can be the engine of a very good offense. He’s also a tremendous off-ball scorer — he can come off screens, catch and shoot, cut, post up, etc. He scales extremely well; there’s not an offense in the league he doesn’t fit into. And while he is poor defensively, he’s more or less equally poor at the 1, 2 or 3.

Trae has more elite skills — he is better at deep shooting, foul drawing and passing than Booker is at anything, and he’s two years younger to boot. That alone is enough to justify him going above Booker. Trae could be a league-altering force. It’s just that, if he doesn’t hit that upside, his fit on a title team is tenuous. How effective can he be as a #2 or #3 option? And even if the answer is “still pretty effective,” is it worth having the worst defender in the league out there if he anything less than the engine of a championship-level offense?

(JS): I echo everything you just said. I also would call deciding between Young and Booker as my most difficult decision in this draft. It would hurt my heart to write anything bad about Booker and God knows I won’t start now. You make great points about how Booker can contribute to winning basketball in multiple ways, most noticeably as a deadly off-ball scorer. If we did this draft one month after opening night, I could easily see myself switching these guys.

13. Ja Morant (JS): On my draft board, I had a bunch of these young guards grouped together in the 11–15 range, but in two different tiers. I had Trae and Booker in the first tier and the next tier was Ja, Murray, and Mitchell. So why does Ja get the nod over Murray and Mitchell? First, he is only 21 as compared to Murray who is 23 and Mitchell who is 24. More importantly, he has only been in the league for one year and thus should have the most room for potential growth.

That’s crazy, because Ja was already really good in his first year. You always hear about how rookie points guards are expected to struggle (shoutout to Russ’s 48.9 TS% as mentioned in Part 1) and how you just have to take the bad with the good. Well, Ja defied expectations in pushing the Grizzlies to the play-in game as their best player. Beyond outperforming team expectations, all of the stats check out for Ja — efficiency, assists, on/off numbers. Now, you may raise an eyebrow at the low three point shooting numbers (2.7 3PA on 34%). You definitely want to see the volume of attempts increase this year, but there seems to be nothing fundamentally broken about his jumper.

To me, this pick provides a high median outcome while also holding a lot of upside. As I finish this write-up, I find myself wondering if Ja belongs in the tier with Trae and Booker as opposed to Murray and Mitchell. What are your thoughts on this Simon?

(SCG): I think you were right to have Ja above Murray and Mitchell, and are also right to not have him in the same tier as Booker and Trae. As close as these young guards are — you could tell me any one of them ends up as the best or worst of the bunch and I wouldn’t be shocked — I do actually think there are 3 clear tiers here.

Mitchell and Murray have both shown flashes of brilliance as playmakers and offensive drivers (particularly in the bubble), but neither has been consistent enough in their approach or their efficiency for me to buy them as future engines of elite teams. Murray is a few months younger and I buy his bubble more (he shredded Utah, LAC and LAL, while Mitchell shredded a short-handed DEN team), but neither is on the level of Booker or Trae — both of whom are more natural playmakers, more consistent jumpshooters and more gifted foul drawers.

Ja threads the needle. His efficiency was right there with Mitchell and Murray this year, but he’s 2.5/3 years younger and a much more natural playmaker (even better than Booker; worse only than Trae). He’s just not a good enough shooter, and while I agree nothing is broken, I simply don’t see him as a three-level scorer who will compromise defenses at the highest levels the way Booker and Trae will.

14. Bam Adebayo (SCG): There are few distillations of raw numbers vs. impact as perfect as the one that exists between the three Kentucky big men taken so far. KAT gives you the statistical profile of a superstar with the impact track record of a fourth Kentucky big who I won’t mention (no, I’m not referring to Enes Kanter). Bam has the boxscore of a versatile glue guy, while playing just as large a role in his team’s 2020 Finals run as the first Kentucky big taken, Anthony Davis.

The question in these situations is always the same: What if the roles were reversed? What if Bam was left to his own devices in Minnesota? What if KAT was given an elite defensive coach and Jimmy Bu — oh wait.

I’ll save us some time by getting this out of the way: Bam is not an elite creator, and is a “dependent” talent that is not going to drag a mediocre team anywhere…though as I wrote in Part I, neither is KAT. As I also wrote in Part I, there’s no such thing as a do-it-all player. Everyone needs good-to-great players around them to succeed, and so all I really care about is how good a player is in said situations.

Bam Adebayo was the best player on the floor in an Eastern Conference Finals series that featured Jayson Tatum (the #3 pick here) and Jimmy Butler. He’s 23, can guard 5 positions, rebound everything, run the break, make plays out of the short role, and score at a 60-plus TS% clip.

The biggest drop-off on my board came after Bam, who I had above Ja, above KAT, and as one of 12 guys I would be THRILLED to build around.

(JS): At this point, I think it pretty clear that we had different top priorities when making our big boards. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ll restate my two highest priorities: 1) youth 2) ability to serve as #1 on an elite offense.

I could guess what your top priorities were, but let’s spare our readers the guessing game — what did you look for above all else when deciding how to rank these guys?

(SCG): This is the conversation we’ve been building to. We hit this point every year, but I think you and I are farther apart this year than ever on this eternal question: sub-elite #1 option or elite complementary player?

We know that winning a championship historically requires an all-time great creator. Once those guys are off the board (or those with the potential to become those guys ), how do you go about trying to find an edge?

To me, it’s by taking someone who separates from the pack in a different way. Whether that be Klay Thompson a couple years back as the most scalable, plug-and-play player in NBA history, or Bam Adebayo now, as a small-ball center who can grab and go, fit into any type of offense with his screening, passing and elite rim finishing and guard all 5 positions on the floor perhaps better than even prime Draymond Green.

These types of players give me a golden ticket in team building, where I can a) win with sub-elite talent by building a more complete TEAM, as the Heat did last year, and b) hunt for elite talent more freely in theoretical future rounds of this draft or future rookie drafts/trades/etc, since my franchise player can play with anyone.

(JS): I think looking at NBA history in the context of this specific exercise may be a little confusing. As you have rightfully pointed out, winning in the actual NBA usually requires an all-time great creator. But remember, the league has completely shifted in this exercise. There are no super teams, and teams that end up with tier 2 creators (Lillard instead of LeBron, for example) can in theory level the playing field by picking higher in Round 2 of the Re-Draft. For that reason, I am putting much higher value on guys who can serve as elite or near elite #1 options.

(SCG): You’re essentially saying that a slightly-lesser #1 option has a path towards defeating a top-tier #1 in a playoff series because they will have a better #2. I look at it the other way — give me the BEST #2 guy, and I’ll have a chance to win by putting a solid #1 around him. Give me the MOST versatile guy, and I’ll have a chance to add more talent by going Best Player Available in future rounds/personnel decisions.

15. Jamal Murray (JS): Let’s cut to the chase here. Jamal Murray was freaking brilliant in last year’s bubble and was just meh in the regular season. I have no idea which of the two is more indicative of future performance for Murray. Rather than trying to answer that impossible question, I think it would be more fun to use the next couple of hundred words to propose a fun fake trade that Simon and I talked about around a month ago.

Jamal Murray and picks for Steph Curry. The Nuggets are clearly ready to win now with Jokic and an offense that featured both the Joker and Curry would be so much fun it hurts my brain to think about. At the same time, the Warriors may be drawing dead with Klay’s latest injury. As much as it hurts all Bay Area natives to say, it may be time to at least consider a rebuild. Murray is a great modern guard to build around while at the same time not being currently good or consistent enough to prevent a solid tank job for a season or two. You could build around Murray, Wiseman and whoever else you get in the lottery. I have more to say about this fake trade from Denver’s side, but let me just stop here for now.

(SCG): Funny enough, this fake trade ties in perfectly with this re-draft. I took Curry at #8, and had Murray at #17. Logic should follow that even a rebuilding Warriors team should value Curry higher than Murray. The question becomes — what is the right asset price to make up the difference between #8 and #17? Are picks enough, when Denver + Curry should be picking close to 30th for years? Would it require R.J. Hampton? Bol Bol? Both? Would it require…dare I say it…MPJ? At that point the Nuggets simply don’t do it, but the Warriors probably don’t before that point either.

(JS): Wait, it can’t require MPJ because that ruins the final trade Denver needs to make to complete their new core. MPJ, Harris, and draft assets for…. Bradley Beal! A team that features Steph, Beal, and Jokic? Would league pass cease to exist at that point? How could you watch any other basketball team after watching those guys play together?

As I said to Simon last night, things need to go south fast to start the season in Golden State for the Warriors to consider trading Steph. Like Dray is a fraction of himself, Wiseman goes through growing pains, and Wiggins is….. extra Wiggins-y. Murray, Barton, two unprotected firsts, and two pick swaps for Steph? It works in the trade machine.

And to even further complicate things, Washington will want more than just MPJ for Beal. The Nuggets could send over MPJ, Harris, and 1 future first and 1 pick swap for Beal. I think Harris maybeee still has some value at 21 million a year, just because of the position he plays. Anyways, we are deep into the woods of hypothetical trades at this point. Final point — if those three guys were to play together, it would easily be the most fun team to ever take the court. If Steph or Beal were to become available, the Nuggets could definitely put together a package to acquire EITHER one of those guys if they really wanted. Getting both is a huge stretch, but it would be so much fun I think it’s worth discussing.

16. Damian Lillard (SCG): For a player whose game is seemingly so easy to understand, knowing what to make of Dame as a franchise player is confounding.

The good: He’s the best 3-point shot creator in the league other than Steph Curry. The gap is massive, but when you’re the second best in the world at one of the most important things in the sport, that matters. He’s a good passer, good finisher, gets to the line and takes care of the ball. He’s an unreal teammate and leader…again, maybe the best this side of Steph. He’s gotten better just about every year he’s been in the league, and arguably took his biggest step yet last year, at age 29. He went from 58.9% true shooting over the previous three seasons to 62.7% last year; setting career highs in 2P%, FT%, FT rate, and shattering his career highs in 3P% and 3P rate. He went from bootleg Steph to facsimile Steph, and he kept it up in the playoffs.

The murky: He kept it up in the playoffs…in 4 games (3 losses), and in a bubble-induced defensively-lax first round that saw Donovan Mitchell turn into Michael Jordan and Jamal Murray into yet another Curry. That 54.4 TS% during his first 6 postseasons still holds weight to me. And while the regular season volume increase is sustainable (Lillard finally started embracing his Steph-like range and pulling from 30+ more than any player ever has), we’re still talking about a 37% 3-point shooter over seven seasons shooting 40%. Finally, while Lillard has improved every year…he’s now 30, and is more reliant on explosiveness than, well, Curry.

Conclusion: Dame’s age and questionable playoff resume keep him below youngsters with a chance of either giving you extra years at Dame’s level or simply surpassing him (Booker, Trae), while the Curry-lite level he’s already reached as a shooter, offensive engine and leader keeps him above dudes who don’t seem to have quite that ceiling (Mitchell, Murray).

17. Donovan Mitchell (JS)

18. James Harden (SCG): I’m not someone who believes that the Rockets’ epic collapse in Game 7 against the Warriors in 2018 was random. And I am someone who believes that performance in crucial playoff games, small sample size and all, is actually an extremely rich data point. The goal of basketball is to win games that matter, and while it’d be nice to have a large sample size of important games, I’ll take a small sample size of important games over a large sample size of not important games.

Imagine there was a pilot who was renowned for his flights always beating their ETA. He takes the best routes, knows all the tricks, etc. He’s set record times for every flight route in America. His only weakness is, when there’s a storm, he crashes.

Would you get on a plane with him?

Would you argue that storms are a small sample size, and it’s unfair to try and glean anything about his overall quality as a pilot from his performance in those situations?

I am still taking Harden here, because basketball is not life, and Harden, like our record-setting pilot, has enough talent to get you to within view of your destination. Maybe those threes fall in an alternate universe, maybe the skies clear and he lands the plane. I’m just not betting my life on it.

(JS): I like the pilot analogy. I also don’t think Harden’s playoffs woes are completely unexplainable. His step back 3 and ability to get the foul line may be a double-edged sword. It’s astoundingly effective in the regular season, but when you get to the playoffs and your game features no variety, it makes you easier to scheme against over the course of a 7-game series.

At the same time…another way to look at 2018 is Harden came the closest any NBA player has gotten to beating those insane Warriors teams. We only have a two-year sample of the Warriors at full strength during the KD years, as injuries ravaged the 2019 postseason for the Dubs. But no other team came remotely close to beating that Warriors team besides the Rockets. In fact, and I didn’t even realize this until now, no team other than the Rockets ever pushed those Warriors teams to anything past a 5 game series. That includes the 16–17 Cavs who had both Lebron and Kyrie (lost in 5).

I find that interesting. Look, the Rockets roster was no slouch with CP3, Tucker, Gordon, and Capela around Harden. But when you compare that to KD, Steph, Klay, and Draymond all in their prime, it’s kind of crazy that the 2018 series was close.

Now, the logical counter is to look at the rest of Harden’s playoff record. That has been a series of collapses, meltdowns, and choke jobs right? Well, according to regular season finishes versus playoff finishes, not really. There has only been one instance in which Harden’s team has lost in the playoffs to a team with an inferior regular season record — and that was in 17–18 when they lost to the Warriors. I’m finding there to be a surprisingly large gap between the perception of how bad Harden has been in the playoffs versus how often his team has actually underperformed.


  • 2015 (Rd. 2, games 5–7 vs. LAC): 26.7 PPG, 35.0 FG%, 23.8 3P%, 4.3 TO
  • 2015 (WCF, Gm 5 vs. GSW): 14 PTS (2–11 FGM), 12 TO
  • 2016 (Rd. 1 games 1–5 vs. GSW): 26.6 PPG, 41.0 FG%, 31.0 3P%, 5.2 TO
  • 2017 (Rd. 2, Gm 6 vs. SAS): 10 PTS (2–11 FGM), 6 TOs against SAS w/o Kawhi
  • 2018 (WCF, games 5–7 vs. GSW): 27.7 PPG, 36.5 FG%, 16.7 3P%, 6.7 TO
  • 2019 (WCSF, Gm. 6 vs. GSW): Best clutch performance of career (35 PTS on 11–25 FGM)…but 4 TOs in the final minutes to cost HOU a chance
  • 2020 (Rd. 1, Gm. 7 vs. OKC): 17 PTS (4–15 FGM, 1–9 3PM), 4 TOs
  • 2020 (Rd. 2, games 4–5 vs. LAL): 25.5 PPG, 45.2 FG%, 21.4% 3P%, 5.5 TOs

Okay, what the hell did I just share?

Those are Harden’s stats from every elimination game he’s played in over the past six years, coupled at times with the preceding games that set up the elimination.

TO BE CLEAR, I am cherry picking. I went back further into the series when Harden’s performance was bad over multiple games, and focused solely on the final games when those were the standout clunkers. This is not ENTIRELY fair, not scientific.

That being said, the point is that Harden has been sub-elite to downright awful during the latter stages of every playoff series he has lost over the past six years. So while it is true that his team wasn’t necessarily expected to win any of these series, I would need them to lose despite terrific play from Harden to use that as an excuse for him. That has not been the case.

19. Lamelo Ball (JS): Our first rookie of the 2020 class! It makes me a little queasy to see this pick sandwiched between two former MVPs, but here we are so let me build a LaMelo case.

I’ll start by talking about his appeal as a prospect. His court vision is well-documented, but suffice it to say he sees the court very well compared to an average NBA starting ball-handler, let alone one who is only a teenager.

To me, a lot of his upside lies in his physical profile. At 6’8, he is a giant guard/wing, and those guys tend to have easier times getting clean looks at the rim and seeing the court. For reference, he is one inch taller than Kawhi, the same height as Paul George, and one inch shorter than Lebron.

I think there are real questions regarding how he will fill out, and the jumper is funky and remains a big question. But the gentleman is 19 years old and already has the court vision, ball-handling and height. I’m betting that if he can become an above average shooter, when you combine that with everything else he already has, he will morph into one of those all-valuable wing creators. There is little certainty he will grow into that level of shooter, but if we are betting on upside, LaMelo definitely has it.

(SCG): When writing about Zion, I talked about historical outlier skills. It’s too early to say if LaMelo Ball is the greatest passer of all-time, but he certainly is the best passing prospect I have ever seen — Lonzo included — and enters the NBA in the conversation for best passer in the league from Day 1.

What this does for his career depends on so many other things — namely the jumper as you said, since that will open up driving lanes for him, but also things like his shot selection, blow-by ability and finishing ability. Then there’s the question of will he defend, will he be coachable, etc.

Regardless of any of that, being so historically great at a compound skill like passing makes it essentially impossible to fail in the league. Melo’s ceiling is there, but his floor, to me, is the selling point.

20. Kevin Durant (SCG): I wrote this after taking KD #4 in our re-draft two years ago:

“He’s a top-3 NBA player, the most versatile scorer in the history of the game, and despite his age (30) is probably going to be better than prime Dirk Nowitzki for the next half decade.”

I left one thing out: he could tear his fucking Achilles, and still be better than prime Dirk Nowitzki.

Look, we don’t know how this injury ultimately impacts KD. He may wear down sooner than he would have without it. He might be prone to subsequent injuries, as we sadly just saw with Klay Thompson. But with all those doubts present, I still took KD at #20 — WITHOUT knowing how damn good he would still look. He’s that great. He’s probably the most natural, gifted basketball player in human history.

If we did this draft after the preseason, he’d probably go 5–10 spots higher.

(JS): This isn’t a competition, but I can’t help but feel that you got the steal of the draft here. Like you said, who knows how much more of an injury risk he is moving forward. But in the month since we did the draft, we have actually got to see him play and he looks fantastic. As he proved in Golden State, he can fit into any roster with his ability to shoot, create, and pass.

If I were to remake my board of players age 30+, I see two tiers of players. The first tier is Lebron, and the second tier is Steph, KD, and maybe, just maybe, James Harden. Also, don’t forget that in this exercise, the league is more balanced. Obviously any team with a healthy KD is a bona-fide contender right away.