The Third Annual Franchise Player Re-Draft, Part II

Welcome to Part II of the 2019 Franchise Player Re-Draft! If you missed Part I, you can check it out here. Today, Justin Savaso and I take a look at picks 11–20 — usually the most contentious part of the exercise. Enjoy!

Note: The re-draft was completed shortly before Victor Oladipo suffered a serious, potentially career-altering injury. Given that this is not a real draft but rather an exercise, we decided it was more interesting to honor the original thought process on why Oladipo was selected where he was.

In other words, we know he’s hurt, but we pretend he isn’t for this discussion.

11. James Harden (Justin Savaso): I really like getting last year’s MVP at this spot in the draft. Although Harden hasn’t won a championship, the Rockets went toe-to-toe with the Warriors in an absolute dogfight of a series last year. Whoever emerged from the West was always going to be the favorite to win it all. To me, this clearly answers the question of whether or not Harden can be the best player on a championship team.

I actually had Harden a spot above KD on my draft board. The No. 1 skill I value in a player is the ability to create efficient shots for themselves and their teammates. The latter is where I give Harden the edge. For all KD’s brilliance, are we absolutely sure he can be the sole catalyst of a top-5 offense? While KD has a huge edge over Harden defensively, Harden is a full year younger. I’m splitting hairs here, but that’s what happens when you compare the best of the best.

(Simon Cherin-Gordon): What’s the point of this exercise, if not to split hairs? You raise a fascinating point about KD’s value and made me re-examine why I rank him so high (I believe he’s the third-best player in the NBA and drafted him at №4), since I too prioritize shot creation for oneself and others above all else. Durant has spent his entire career playing alongside Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and yes, James Harden — all amongst the game’s elite facilitators. How far could he carry a team without any of them?

Ultimately, this is about scarcity and replaceability. Even if KD does need a high-level ball handler and facilitator alongside him, those initiators just as badly need high-level play finishers on the wing. KD is probably the greatest version of that in NBA history, meaning that it takes similar historic greatness (LeBron, Curry) to surpass him in offensive value.

Harden is teetering on that edge, but his annual playoff struggles (he’s shooting 41% from the field, 29% from 3 and turning the ball over 4.5 times per game over the last three postseasons) put him a tier lower for me.

12. Lebron James (SCG): Many would say we are crazy for having James this low, since it is likely that no younger player will ever reach his current level. To think that way, however, is to be a prisoner of the moment. James has beaten father time up to this point, but every year, it becomes less and less likely that he will continue to do so. It would not shock me if James was still “best-player-on-a-title-team” caliber in two years, but it also wouldn’t shock me if a dude who has played more minutes than Michael Jordan, Shaq, Oscar Robertson and perhaps most tellingly Vince Carter starts to break down. The Christmas Day groin injury that kept him out for nearly a quarter of the season speaks to that concern.

Remember, each pick in this draft represents a franchise essentially choosing to lock into a player for the remainder of their career. The fact that James — who may cease to even be in consideration for this exercise a year from now — is still №12 is less a dismissal of than a nod to his current greatness.

13. Victor Oladipo (JS): During his time in Indiana, Oladipo has carried a Pacers offense that I pegged to be bottom 5 at the beginning of last year. Although that’s certainly nothing to scoff at, he just isn’t as dynamic of a playmaker as the players drafted before him. While Oladipo can certainly get his own, I don’t see him carrying a top-7 offense, which history tells us is a prerequisite for a Finals team.

Let’s turn to the positives surrounding the Hoosier product. He is a complete two-way player, is 26 years old, and fights like hell every night. I want an all-star caliber guy who is going to bring his “A” game on a back-to-back in the middle of January. While it might not sound sexy, those are the types of players that carry teams to the postseason.

We have firmly exited the best player on a title team discussion; Oladipo provides the highest floor for the longest period of time out of anyone left in the draft. His youth gives him the edge over similar caliber players (e.g. Klay and Dame) and there are no remaining prospects who I feel with any certainty will reach what Oladipo did last season.

(SCG): It seems that each year, we exit the “best player on a title team” (currently or some day) section right around this juncture, albeit with different names occupying the top 11–12 spots. Doncic, Jokic and Tatum are newcomers this year, while Ben Simmons, Kristaps Porzingis and Kyrie Irving have fallen out.

It is here that I shift my focus to two player types: Those who are elite №2s, and those with №1 upside, even if they do not yet appear on that trajectory. Oladipo, a player I absolutely love, is in neither category. His growth as an outside shooter looks to be overblown, and he’s not providing much value as a rebounder, floor spacer, screensetter, etc. His defense and secondary creation is excellent, but I don’t feel as good about having him next to a top tier guy as I do Paul George, Damian Lillard or Klay Thompson. And while he is two years younger than all three, I do not see him as having another gear to reach given his dependence on athleticism.

(JS): It seems like you put more value in a player’s ability to be an elite №2 than I do. I’m operating under the premise that my franchise won’t be able to acquire a superstar, which nearly every title winning team has had. Over the past five years, we have seen many stars switch teams but have seen only three superstars — KD, Lebron and Kawhi — leave for different situations. That leaves me with two options: take a gamble on a prospect with superstar potential or draft a young proven player who is going to land me in the playoffs for years to come.

Oladipo possesses the necessary combination of youth and proven skill for me to choose the latter. It certainly is tempting to draft a player with near Steph upside (spoiler alert!) but that type of pick is more likely than not to miss, and where does that leave my franchise? Rebuilding for the next three years? While I want to build a championship contender, I also need to be realistic about where I’m drafting.

(SCG): If this comes down to a difference in draft philosophy, I am okay with taking Oladipo here. He is an elite floor raiser, which helps explain why his one year next to one of the all-time great floor raisers in Russell Westbrook was such a dud: You only need one of those guys. Seeing the effectiveness of a highly scalable player like George in his spot is why I value №2s more — I may not be able to get a superstar to pair with my franchise player, but I do believe I can get a “usage superstar” a la Westbrook, John Wall, etc.

(JS) While I did not think of Oladipo specifically as a “floor raiser,” the term does seem applicable. I find this discussion of №2s to be of particular interest. You brought up an interesting player in Paul George- a player who can space the floor, defend opposing wings, and handle as a secondary creator. Essentially the perfect №2. With all that being said, we saw OKC bounced out of the first round of the playoffs last year. I don’t consider Russ a superstar or one of the best 7 players in the league, this year or last. I believe to maximize the value of a №2, you need to pair him with one of the best 7 players in the league. I don’t like putting all my eggs in one basket and for that reason I stand by taking Oladipo in this spot.

14. Kristaps Porzingis (SCG): This is the first of two picks I am certain will stir up controversy, but I am as confident in these selections as any — particularly this first one.

Justin, you took Porzingis №9 last year, citing his outside shooting, positional versatility, back-to-the-basket game and elite rim protection as reasons why. I agreed, and said that this is why I had him above Anthony Davis — an older, more injury prone, less skilled post player.

SInce then, two of those things have changed. Porzingis is still younger, but has also torn his ACL, while Davis has become a terrific scoring force on the block. That being said, the foundation of a top-10 pick is still here — just with a good amount of uncertainty that was not previously present. That’s enough to knock him down five spots, but why he should fall farther I do not understand.

Am I missing something? Is this not the right manner in which to weigh his previous resume with his current health status?

(JS): While this is certainly a gamble, it is one I endorse. Porzingis’ skill-set is so valuable and sought out in today’s game that I think you take the risk he’s not the same player upon returning.

There is huge variance in NBA players returning from ACL tears. Zach LaVine looks to be his old self while Jabari Parker looks to be on his way out of the league, so we can’t predict with any type of certainty what will happen when Porzingis returns. However, KP might be one of the last players who possesses huge upside along with some type of body of work showing he can be a highly effective two way player.

15. Donovan Mitchell (JS): We know what Donovan Mitchell is capable of at the ripe age of 22. Last year, he was the best player on a Utah Jazz team that made the second round of the playoffs. To me, that was the single most surprising story line of the 2017–18 season and it wasn’t particularly close. If this redraft was done this past off-season, I imagine Mitchell being somewhere in the in the 8-to-10 range on my board.

But this redraft took place in January of 2019 and unfortunately Mitchell has taken a small step back as a sophomore. With a usage rate nearly identical to his rookie year, his overall efficiency has dropped and he’s been a big part of why the Jazz are a disappointing №20 in offense. The best case for Mitchell this year would have been to see his efficiency tick up and for him to make strides as a distributor. He’s done neither and as a result he remains outside the Tatum and Doncic discussion for best rookie or sophomore player.

(SCG): There is a question in scouting that I have often heard used to assess the severity of a deficiency possessed by a given player, and it goes something like this: Is the problem due to the fact that he “can’t” do something, “won’t” do something or “doesn’t know how” to do something? The question works nicely as a jumping off point to figuring out what ails Mitchell this season.

Is his regression in efficiency due to a “can’t” problem (his 3-point shooting down the stretch last year may have been unsustainable, and the rest of his game may have only been fully unlocked by said unsustainable shooting), a “won’t” problem (Mitchell experienced a more success and praise than he ever anticipated, and he may have failed to put the requisite effort into improving and adjusting last offseason), or a “doesn’t know how” problem (Mitchell’s struggles may simply be a normal side effect of youth and a still-developing basketball I.Q.)?

No matter the answer, the problem is fixable, and I in fact would bank on it being fixed. Whether Mitchell needs to become a better shooter, work harder in the offseason or simply put in more time in the league before becoming a fully-formed star, I think he’ll do what’s necessary. He is a supremely gifted, confident and bright young player.

Of course, “probably” is not “definitely,” and our placement of Mitchell (I had him just slightly lower than you, at №18) reflects this. Like you said, he’d have gone in the top 10 were these concerns about his development not involved.

16. Trae Young (SCG): We’ve each alluded to this pick once now, and I have no doubt it will be the most controversial selection — at least in terms of a guy going too high — in Part II, if not the entire redraft.

For me, it’s simple: If Young’s outside shot comes around, he will return top-5 value, if not higher than that. He already has the vision, passing acumen and ability to put pressure on the rim to, at age 20, be №6 in the league in assists per minute (8.9 AST per 36 minutes). He also gets to the free throw line 5.3 times per 36, making his best comps at this juncture a rookie John Wall (7.9 AST per 36, 4.9 FTA per 36, 49.4 TS%) and Russell Westbrook (5.9 AST per 36, 5.8 FTA per 36, 48.9 TS%).

And yet Young finds himself compared to Stephen Curry, Steve Nash and the like. For many, these comps are the reason they view Young so low. Nash was at 53.9 TS% as a rookie; Curry was at 56.8%. If this is Young’s path, what do we make of his 51.9 TS%? Clearly, he looks like a bust.

But what if we forget our preconceived notions about Young’s archetype and just look at the evidence? In that case, we have a young point guard who is on track to be a high usage engine with or without a jumper. We also have evidence from Young’s one year in college that his outside shot has far more upside than that of rookie Wall or Westbrook. Forget Curry; Young only need to shoot the ball like Kemba Walker to become an MVP candidate one day.

Given that Walker had a worse TS% through four years (49.5) than Young has halfway through one, I’m not sure why this outcome is all that far-fetched.

(JS): I want to believe in Trae Young. I really do. As a 5’8 dude, I’m a bit partial to players whose games don’t rely on athleticism or overpowering the opposition.

And yet…. He’s been so bad thus far in shooting the 3 ball and finishing around the rim, that I just can’t buy into him as a future offensive star in this league. If it was just one of these two categories, I could look the other other way. However, we are halfway through the season and he is shooting 30% from 3 and 53% at the rim. That’s in the 21st and 10th percentile for point guards respectively, per Cleaning the Glass. Yikes.

I understand your statement that Wall, Westbrook, and Walker were all high usage, inefficient rookies without a jump shot. They all went on to have all-star careers. And yet……

Player A: 31.4% usage, 46 eFG%, 30% on 5.5 3PA, 7.4 APG

Player B: 28.1% usage, 43 eFG%, 26% on 3.0 3PA, 6.3 APG

Player A? Trae Young through 53 games his rookie year.

Player B? Michael Carter-Williams through 70 games his rookie year.

Young is not going to be Carter-Williams. His jumper is too good for him to have that low of a floor. But do we have any type of evidence he will make massive jumps in both his jump shooting and finishing at the rim? If you’re not an explosive player, you must rely on elite three point shooting, deceit, creativity, and a knack for evading defenders to become a star in this league. To me, those are much more difficult skills to develop than a player figuring out how to harness his athleticism. While the Nash and Curry comparisons might not be fair in the fact they are future hall-of-famers, these are players that most resemble Young’s skill set. Both players started off already proficient in those areas and grew to become great. Young is starting off nowhere close to either player, and I’m skeptical of the massive amounts of growth required for this pick to hit.

(SCG): Even though we seem to be world’s apart on Young, I don’t think we disagree much about his skillset. Rather, it is our views on the efficacy of those skills and the thresholds that need to be reached to become a high impact player in this league that we are debating. Which is what the franchise player re-draft is all about — using these players as a jumping off point to discuss bigger ideas about the league and its future.

Your MCW comparison represents Young’s absolute floor, but is completely irrelevant to his ceiling. There are plenty of players with higher median outcomes at this spot, and countless players with higher floors. But IF Young CAN shoot significantly better than he has so far, he has everything else necessary to become the centerpiece of an elite offense. He has the handle. He has the passing ability. He has the ability to get to the line. He’s so far ahead of where a Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker or Damian Lillard was at his age (20) in all of these areas, that if he learns to shoot like even the worst shooter among them (Walker, who at 20 was also a worse shooter than Young is currently), he will be far better than all of them as the rest of his game continues to grow and open up.

To put it simply, because the discussion feels convoluted at this point: This is not a bet that Young becomes a great shooter, but rather a bet he becomes an average one at high volume and distance. I think that’s not unlikely, and that it’s all he needs to become a superstar.

(JS): This is fascinating how different of takeaways we have on Young’s rookie year thus far. I’m not sure why Young as an average shooter at high volume is something to be feared, let alone how that equates to a superstar. So much of Steph’s value is that guys have to be in his jersey from 28 feet out because he is a career 44% 3 point shooter. Why would any team care about guarding a 35% 3 point shooter from that far out?

It stands to reason that Young has gotten the benefit of the doubt on his reputation as a shooter coming into the league, which has helped him get to the rim and find open teammates. Can he still get by defenders when they are not playing him as tight? This is where explosiveness and athleticism come into play. Because he is average in both, he needs to be feared as an elite shooter or to have the handles of a Kyrie to consistently beat his defender. I would argue that if he became an elite 3-point shooter on a high volume — let’s says around 39% on 8.0 3PA — then he is a star in this league as he can leverage spacing and his natural passing ability into a top notch offense. Anything short of that and you are getting drastically diminishing returns with Young as a centerpiece.

To address his passing numbers and FTAs, they certainly have been better than I expected in his rookie year. However, in looking at the situation he is in, I’m not sure it’s all that surprising. He has an astronomical 31.4% usage rate as a rookie which is significantly higher than any of the above players mentioned (Russ is 2nd with 28.0%). When you spend that much time with the ball, stats are going to accumulate — look no further than Russ’s MVP triple-double season two years ago. This is why the MCW comparison is relevant; high usage rates at a young age don’t always mean a player is going to contribute to winning basketball later his career.

(SCG): I’ll concede that I may have misapplied the term “average.” My point is not that Young needs to only be an average shooter, but rather to shoot an average percentage (35–36%) on a difficult diet of attempts.

This is precisely what he did last year at Oklahoma. Young shot 36.0% on 10.3 3PA, and was a superstar in every sense of the word. The defensive attention he commanded was enough to make driving and finding open teammates easier, but make no mistake — Young is a natural in both these areas. He’s not an explosive athlete, but he’s extremely fluid. His vision and pick-and-roll feel is absurdly advanced for his age, and he can handle, make difficult passes and finish, all with either hand.

You mention how tight defense and an astronomical usage rate have made driving and playmaking easier for Young — I’ll go the other way and say that attention and usage have made outside shooting harder. Hitting 3s at a league average rate while facing elite defenders and double teams every night and shooting off the bounce 66.5 percent of the time is something that only a half dozen guys in the league can currently do, and it’s far from certain that Young gets there.

My point is simply that he can (using his NCAA stats and smooth, quick, effortless stroke as evidence), and that if he does, the league is in trouble.

(JS): Lets conclude the novel we have compiled on Trae Young with this: We are not that far apart in Young’s path to becoming a star or even a superstar. A few percentage points on a high volume of threes is hardly much to quibble over.

The real discrepancy lies in how we view the body of work Young has compiled halfway through his rookie year. I view his inefficiency thus far on 3s and finishing around the rim as major red flags. You view his playmaking and ability to get to the line as better than advertised, making his path to stardom in many ways more attainable. While that might be a bit over simplistic, that’s what is seems to boil down to. Any player whose outcomes range from Carter-Williams to near-Steph levels is certainly worth watching. I believe I speak for both of us in saying this will be the most interesting selection to look back on in two years.

17. Kyrie Irving (JS): My initial thoughts on this pick were that Kyrie went five spots too late. He’s the same age as Oladipo and is having probably the best regular season of his career. Not only has he looked like a more complete player, but his on/off per 100 possessions of +9.1 is near the top of the league. Brad Stevens has him giving a damn on defense this year, alleviating one of Kyrie’s weaknesses as a franchise player. Add in a postseason resume that many players drafted ahead of him can’t match and you wonder why Kyrie wasn’t a top-12 pick.

The answer to my own question is simple — injury risk. He has played in 60 games or less in five of the eight seasons he’s been in the league. He underwent his second knee surgery last summer, which was related to the fractured kneecap he suffered in the 2015–2016 Finals. While he looks to have recovered this year, durability question marks are a dicey proposition when drafting a franchise player. If you could guarantee a relatively healthy Kyrie for the remainder of his career, I imagine he would have been in the 12–13 range on my board.

(SCG): I second everything you said. There are reasons to worry about building around Kyrie (his health, his improving-but-not-proven defense, his struggles to make advanced reads as a passer and his questionable leadership) that take him out of a tier that his age and skill would theoretically put him in.

Having said that, he was №15 on my board, above Oladipo and above Mitchell. That’s just so no one accuses me of being a hater, and also to state that I do place immense value on Irving’s ability to perform in the clutch and against the best competition. Honestly, I’d balk at taking James Harden over this guy in a playoff series.

18. Ben Simmons (SCG): Last year, Simmons went one spot over Porzingis in this re-draft. Since then, KP tore his ACL, and Simmons led the Sixers to 16 straight wins and the №3 seed in the East with Joel Embiid out.

How in God’s name did Porzingis pass Simmons during that time?

Well, first off, the Boston Celtics laid out the blueprint for how to stop Simmons in the postseason: Get back in transition, give him a ton of space, and make him force the issue inside. It was so successful that Simmons not only had a disappointing series, but was legitimately rendered unplayable during key stretches. Boston’s performance was less a lucky “you can only hope to contain him” percentage play, and more of a hack-a-DeAndre, “you really need to get this guy off the floor” checkmate move.

Now, Simmons was a rookie last year, and one bad postseason would not be enough to knock him down this far. But if Mitchell’s lack of improvement is somewhat discouraging, Simmons is downright disappointing. He entered the offseason with one massively obvious flaw, and entered Year 2 with absolutely zero growth in that area.

More discouraging than the apparent lack of growth is his attitude towards the problem. Simmons, in his words, does not shoot jumpers because he’s “never needed to shoot” and that “obviously (he) can’t because (he’s) never practiced it.” Hopefully this is a lie, because if true it reveals a disturbing lack of work ethic and misunderstanding of how basketball is played. Either way, the comments add fuel to a fire that was already raging in my mind: That Simmons will never learn to shoot, and that he will be a relatively ineffective postseason player for his entire career.

This feels like a hot take, but I can’t get to a place where I see this situation as any less dire. Can you? You clearly were no higher on Simmons than me in this re-draft…

(JS): First off, no, this is not a hot take. It feels like public perception on Simmons has shifted following last year’s postseason. Save for Young, this is the first player who has been drafted whose place on the floor in a playoff series is in question. To quote the other Simmons, “that matters.” Look no further than his current situation and how much trouble the 76ers have had building a championship contender around Simmons and Embiid.

With that being said, let’s not sell short what Simmons would bring as a franchise player. You’d be getting a player who can defend 1–4, a monster in transition, and a guy who averaged 8.2 assists in his first year in the league. He’s also 22 years old. To me, this is one of the safer picks in the draft as Simmons significantly raises your franchise’s floor for the next decade. After a few drinks, there’s still an immense upside argument to be made. Just make them strong as you need to forget that Simmons has taken a single three pointer through 53 games this year and apparently doesn’t have a need for developing a shot.

19. De’Aaron Fox (JS): Last year, the Kings went 27–55 with an efficiency differential of -7.7 points per 100 possessions. This year, the Kings currently sit at 28–26. What gives? Let me give you a hint: It’s not Marvin Bagley.

The jumps Fox has made are nothing short of spectacular. In his sophomore year, he has learned how to channel his explosive first step and tight handles into becoming an efficient scorer and distributor. Even more encouraging, he has made major strides with the 3-point shot, shooting 36% on 2.9 3PA per game. He is a plus defender and uses his length and quickness to log nearly two steals a night. Fox has transformed from somewhat of a flawed prospect last year to a floor leader on a respectable team this year. I briefly debated Fox versus Jaren Jackson Jr., but feel even more confident in my pick after doing the write-up. There are few holes in Fox’s game and while I don’t see immense upside, I see a very well-rounded player who can be a foundational piece of my franchise.

20. Jaren Jackson Jr. (SCG): Since you brought up the Fox/Jackson question, I might as well hit on it here. I see them having comparable ceilings (despite Fox’s inherent advantage as a primary ball handler), but I think Jackson’s floor and median outcome is better.

My issue with Fox — and the reason he was slightly lower on my board at №22 — is that he needs the jumpshooting growth he’s shown this season to be 100% real in order to be part of a title team. That’s the dark side of being a primary: With more importance comes a higher threshold of impact necessary to remain useful.

JJJ is essentially the opposite. His ceiling is based on him becoming an All-NBA defender at either frontcourt position and developing enough of a jumper and off-the-dribble game to be a matchup nightmare as a third option. The difference is that, should Jackson’s offense never progress to this level, he is still guaranteed to be an ultra-useful player due to his defensive versatility and serviceable shot.

Should Fox slip even a little below his ceiling, he’s Russell Westbrook or John Wall — a guy that’s too good not to hand your team to, but not able to take you where you want to go.

(JS): To me, this seems more of a difference in team building philosophy than player disagreement. In the second half of the draft, I’m focusing on young talented guys who have already proven their place in the league (Oladipo, Mitchell, Fox). All of these players are currently №1 options on playoff contending teams, which is nothing to sneeze at. However, none of them are good enough to be a №1 on a title contender and all have question marks as how they fit in as a №2. You seem to favor players who have a clear role as a №2 on a bona fide title contender, backed by your KP and JJJ picks. One of the great realizations from this exercise is it’s less about us debating between players and more about examining our philosophies regarding franchise building.

All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and CleaningTheGlass.com (subscription required).

Look out for Part III (picks 21–30), coming up next week! Follow Simon on Twitter @Simoncgo.