The Third Annual Franchise Player Re-Draft, Part III
Welcome to the conclusion of the 2019 Franchise Player Re-Draft! If you missed Parts I and II you can check them out here and here. Today, things really open up as Justin Savaso and I take a look at picks 21–30. Enjoy!
21. Paul George (Justin Savaso): Every year we do this re-draft, one specific clump of players- George, Klay Thompson, and Damian Lillard- seem to land in the same vicinity. In 2016, PG and Dame were picked at №12 and 13 respectively, while Klay was the №22 pick. In 2017, we saw Klay rise up to №16 while George and Lillard were picked №20 and 21. Reflecting upon this, one could reason that these three players are somewhat indistinguishable as franchise players over the past three years. I’m a bit perplexed at how we arrived at this point. While two of the three have proven their value as THE franchise guy, one of these players’ case is purely hypothetical as a №1 guy.
Look, Klay is already one of the best five shooters of all-time at age 29. That’s impressive as hell. I don’t want to diminish what Klay has accomplished in his storied career thus-far. However, the question still needs to be asked: If Klay is having an off-shooting night, what happens to your team’s offense? Right now, that means giving the ball to Steph and KD and letting them do their thing. No sweat. He will always be a great floor spacer which is an attribute every modern NBA offense needs. But is that enough? What if instead of giving the ball to Steph and KD you had to give the ball to Jeff Teague and Robert Covington? Does Klay make sense as a franchise player then?
I just have reservations about what exactly you’re building around by drafting a 28-year-old Thompson. I know if I draft George or Lillard, a playoff berth is closed to guaranteed and the second round of the playoffs seems like the most likely outcome for the next 3–4 years. I can’t say with any amount of confidence the same for Klay. Why does Klay belong in the same tier as these proven franchise guys? Am I penalizing him too severely for the great talent he has been surrounded by throughout his career, something he has no control over? Is there untapped potential here that I am missing?
22. Klay Thompson (Simon Cherin-Gordon): Man, what a strong statement to kick off Part III. This discussion is also a perfect place to pick up where we left off in Part II, debating De’Aaron Fox vs. Jaren Jackson Jr. for their relative merits as №1 or №2 options.
I don’t want to run from your point, but I have to first be honest: This Klay selection was more about future than present value. These three 28-year olds have been attached at the hip in this exercise for years, but as time goes on, I expect Thompson to distinguish himself. Everything he lacks as a primary creator relative to George (who is significantly better) and Lillard (who is not on the same planet in this regard), he makes up for with his potential for a graceful decline. I’m concerned with Lillard’s post-30 prognosis given his size, reliance on quickness and good-but-not-great I.Q. I worry less about George given his stroke, size and length, but athleticism still carries him more than it does Thompson, who relies more on positioning and strength on defense, reading and reacting as an off-ball cutter, and a lightning quick release as a shooter.
That said, you are right: Thompson has benefited tremendously from playing alongside the talent he does. In the “who makes who look better?” game, I’ve always argued that Curry does more for his teammates (this includes Durant, by the way) than they do for him. And yet, what if I told you that the dude STILL doesn’t get enough credit? It sounds crazy, but we are talking about a team that won 73 games, beat prime KD/Russ, and nearly toppled prime LBJ/Kyrie, all in one season. And that’s the only year it DIDN’T win the title since 2015. If this was just Curry lifting up his teammates, Steph would be better than Michael Jordan. If he’s not, that must mean Thompson is something close to Scottie Pippen.
(JS): Future value is certainly an area where Klay has the edge on his counterparts. You hit on the reasons perfectly and I’m especially worried about Lillard in this regard. With that being said, this just kicks the can a bit too far down the road for my taste. I’m not sure if I’m going to recoup enough value 3–4 years from now to justify the risk of drafting Klay as my franchise guy now. I find it much more valuable to have significantly better №1s in George and Lillard right now than for me to wait for Klay to age gracefully.
As you mentioned, a Steph-Klay-Draymond core won a title in 2015 and an astounding 73 regular season games in 2016. Their Finals loss to the Cavs in 2016 led way to the KD signing and put an end to any sample size of Klay as a No. 2ish player on a title team (Klay vs Dray from 2014–2016 is a fascinating question in its own right). Thus, we have no evidence of how his set of skills translates around average talent. I consider this a risky pick without a ton of upside which is a combination I want to steer clear of. For that reason, I believe Klay still belongs in the re-draft — but in a separate tier than George and Lillard.
(SCG): Is it fair to say this might be as simple as you valuing playoff appearances more than me? I agree that we don’t know what Klay would be without greatness around him, but that matters less once we get to the point where every player available needs greatness around them to actually win you a title. If that’s the goal, I’ll take having Klay Thompson in the fold for the next decade over a decade of PG or Lillard. Eighty percent of the time (or 90 or 95, who knows) this strategy will backfire, because it requires landing a transcendent talent at some point during that decade. But I think titles require transcendent talent AND transcendent support. Klay, as a lockdown defender and perhaps the greatest off-ball scorer in NBA history, has certainly proven he is that.
(JS): That’s a good way to summarize this Klay discussion. It’s so interesting to think of how actual GM’s would approach this exercise. Are they swinging for the fences, knowing if they don’t land a superstar in 2–3 years then they are canned? Or are they drafting players who could land them in the second round of the playoffs for the next couple of years? Similar to the NBA draft, I hypothesize we would see a range of philosophies ranging from conservative to high-upside picks.
23. Damian Lillard (JS): We have already touched on some of the concern in drafting Dame. He’s already not great on D which is only going to get worse as time passes. With a somewhat slight frame, you worry how his finishing is affected if he loses a step on offense.
With that being said, I feel Dame has been perpetually underrated throughout his career which is backed by any metric. He has posted a positive on/off net rating of at least 9.0 points per 100 possessions in 4 out of 7 seasons (including 2018/2019). He takes the right type of shots with a steady diet of his attempts coming from 3 or at the rim. While never a truly great passer, we have seen a Dame centered offense with so/so surrounding talent finish in the top 10 in 3 of the past 6 years. Even with a prime that coincides with the likes of Steph, CP and Russ, he finished №4 in MVP voting last year. It’s very possible he delivers the most present value of the trio despite coming in behind George and Klay.
(SCG): I’m with you on all fronts. I wrote a piece for The 94 last year titled “What Underrated Actually Looks Like,” and it was about how Lillard, despite his popularity and marketability, is far more underrated than the less-famous guards we tend to apply that moniker to: The Mike Conley’s, the Kemba Walker’s. Lillard plays in the Western Conference, and has not played with an All-Star since entering his prime. He’s been a top-15 player for the last four years, but has only made two All-Star teams and won one playoff series during that time.
I can’t help but wonder what his resume might look like if he were competing with Walker, John Wall, Brad Beal, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Isaiah Thomas and Goran Dragic for All-Star spots instead of Curry, Harden, Westbrook, Thompson, Chris Paul and, up until two years ago, Kobe. Or if the best player he faced in the conference playoffs was Paul George, instead of Anthony Davis being the third-best. Or if his best teammates were LeBron James, Kevin Love and Al Horford, rather than LaMarcus Aldridge, CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic? Dare I say Lillard might be a perennial All-Star starter, an NBA champion, and held in higher regard than a certain other point guard who plays for the Celtics?
24. Devin Booker (SCG): Ahhh, Devin Armani Booker. No name is as synonymous in my mind with “Franchse Player Re-Draft” than his. Perhaps it is the fact that we have flip-flopped on our relative opinions of him (you were higher initially, I am now), or the fact that we are both of us higher on him than the general NBA media. More than any of that, I believe it is Booker’s confounding mixture of factors ripe for theorizing that make him the perfect specimen for a project that is wholly theoretical.
Devin Booker is ageless. You’d think he was 32 by now, considering that it feels like I’ve been saying “Devin Booker is only 22” for a decade. But alas, Booker is just 22. Still the 76th-youngest player to set foot on a court this season. Still younger than 17 rookies, including Donte DiVencenzo, Chandler Hutchinson and his teammate Mikal Bridges. Still younger than last year’s top rookies, Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons.
Booker has also proven very little ability to drive any kind of winning. Only twice in his four-year career have the Suns been better with Booker on the court than off of it, and even then, they were not actually good with him on it.
The central question surrounding Booker is this: Does his age, the offensive talent that flies of the box score and the game tape, and the atrocious rosters/coaches he’s been surrounded by make up for the lack of evidence that he can contribute to winning basketball at this juncture?
I’m still betting on yes. But, with a slightly better roster and clearly better coach on his side this year, my patience is starting — ever so slightly — to wane.
(JS): Well it’s safe to say you got the better of the two Suns prospects with this pick. Count me in on Booker. The dude’s game just makes complete sense for where the NBA is heading. The talent surrounding him continues to be atrocious and as you indubitably laid out, he is only 22. I could easily see Booker filling in a number of roles throughout his career, ranging from No. 1 on a playoff team to a second/third scoring option on a title contending team. Having a game that lends itself to that type of flexibility is a huge plus for the re-draft.
25. DeAndre Ayton (JS): Can I just make my whole Ayton write-up about how much I like Booker? Sigh. There is no bigger drop-off to me in the draft than from Booker to Ayton. And yet…… I don’t know if I could do anything different with this pick. We have arrived to the point where every player is flawed in some significant way. It could be a variety of things — age, playmaking ability, or role on a title contender. With Ayton, you question the latter.
If this pick is going to pan out, Ayton needs to get better on defense. I’m not exactly breaking ground here but it does need to be written about. You worry about building a team around a center who is constantly out of position protecting the rim and is getting shredded in the pick-and-roll. If the 20-year old doesn’t make major strides in this area then he has no spot in this redraft.
But if he becomes adequate on this end? You’ve landed yourself a nice piece. As a rookie, he’s averaging 16.6 ppg and 10.4 boards on an eFG of 59.3%. While the numbers may feel a bit hollow, he has real skill with a couple of go-to post moves and a nice touch on his shot. He can provide versatility in the pick-and-roll with his ability to dive to the rim or pop for a jumper. While I’m not exactly fired up about this pick, there is a road for Ayton to become a franchise player. It’s becoming harder and harder to find players with even that type of potential and I’m interested in how these remaining five picks play out.
(SCG): Ayton was not on my initial board, but some times has passed since we conducted this draft and I think he would be now. You made the case perfectly — if his defense comes around, he’s special. That might be a big if, but it is not all that different from my Trae Young argument.
It’s not about having a high floor. If that were the priority, guys like Clint Capela, Rudy Gobert and Steven Adams would be far better selections. Nor is it about absolute ceiling, as that would favor more unicorn-y players such as Mo Bamba, Marvin Bagley or Dragan Bender.
Rather, the appeal of Ayton is his slightly-above-median outcome. If he becomes competent on defense — not likely, but very possible — he’s probably going to be an All-Star. That’s an attractive proposition at this stage in the draft.
(JS): For your sake, I’m just commenting here so that people know that Bender comment was a joke.
26. Jamal Murray (SCG): A comparison between Murray and Trae Young reveals both why the Hawks’ rookie is far more valuable, while also demonstrating why a player like Murray belongs in this exercise.
Through this his third season, Murray has shot the long ball at about the percentage (36.8) that I posited Young needed to reach to become a superstar. Murray is already at that number, and while he’s a nice player, he’s also quite a ways away from stardom. What will he need to do to get there? He doesn’t have Young’s handle or rare court vision, nor his propensity to draw contact and get to the line. While Murray has become a capable defender, it is unlikely a path he can ride to stardom a la a young Chris Paul or John Wall (who were also far more dynamic offensively right away than Murray might ever be). Short of becoming a more consistent shooter (closer to 40% from deep) and scoring in the mid-20s, it’s hard to envision Murray becoming a worthy franchise player.
That said, as we discussed in Part II, there is a world in which Young’s shot doesn’t come around, and it is one he is close to worthless in. Murray has no such floor. He has proven that he can ignite at any moment, that he must be guarded, that he himself can guard, and that he can be the point guard (though not the primary creator necessarily) on a very good team. While I have serious doubts about his ability to be an engine, a 3-and-D point guard with scoring upside and pick-and-roll competence is a lovely piece to have in the modern NBA.
27. Bradley Beal (JS): You mentioned earlier that you have associated the term “Franchise Player Re-Draft” with Devin Booker. For me, that player is Bradley Beal. When I drafted him in 2017 with the №28 pick, I figured in two years he’d either be out of this exercise due to injury or make a jump into the top 20. And yet here we are with the №27 pick.
Players like Booker and Beal are what make the franchise player redraft such a thought-provoking exercise. Imagining a young talented player outside of the near dumpster fire of a situation he is in, such as the case of Booker and Beal, is more intriguing to me than trying to predict if Ben Simmons will ever get a jump shot.
There is a lot to like about Beal. He is remarkably still only 25 years old and has remained durable over the past two and a half seasons. His assists and FTA attempted have steadily risen over the course of his career, to a respectable 5.4 APG and 5.2 FTA through the 2018–19 season. Due to Wall’s injury woes, he has gotten a high amount of reps as a lead ball-handler and hasn’t disappointed. Thought of as a pure spot-up shooter early in his career, he now has a usage that ranks in the 95th percentile compared to other wings in the NBA. I don’t know Simon — are we overlooking Beal because of the crappy situation in WAS? It feels like with his combination of current skill and youth, he might have gone five picks too late.
(SCG): A contrarian by nature, I have gone from being down on Beal to being a “Bradley Beal guy” over the last 12 months, as he has shifted from overrated to underrated. I even heard Danny Leroux — whom I respect immensely — question whether Beal passed his “Nene” test, i.e. if his contract had positive or negative value on the trade market.
Look, I understand that Beal was overhyped early in career as this all-world 3-and-D star. He’s more of a good than great shooter, and the same can be said of his defense. But to question whether a contender would want to pay an average of $27 million — well below the max — over the next 2.5 seasons for an off-guard who can run your offense, be a secondary creator or scale back and space the floor while capably defending his position? Who should only get better over the duration of his deal?
I know asset value and real-life contracts have nothing to do with this exercise, but they also kinda do, because they are real-life factors that often make us forget how damn good a player is. I don’t think Beal’s money would look like anything less than a bargain if Washington wasn’t paying John Wall and Otto Porter Jr. what they were, and I don’t think Beal would look like anything less than a terrific young shooting guard outside of the context of that team. And that IS what this exercise is about.
(JS): Interesting point. A key part of this exercise, as you point out, is separating out a player’s contract into determining the “value” of the player. Unfortunately for us, our brain doesn’t compartmentalize information that neatly. When I hear “Otto Porter Jr.” the first thoughts that come to my mind aren’t that he’s a well-rounded player who can fit in on a lot of teams. Rather, I think “Oh yeah, pretty good player but damn he’s way overpaid.” As the NBA has become a more analytically-driven sport, it seems the way we perceive and discuss players has changed. Look no further than the Clippers being applauded for trading Tobias Harris, the best player on a team that was above .500 and in a playoff spot at the time (and still is). Meanwhile, the 76ers were deemed “losers” of the trade for cramping the future flexibility of their cap.
I’m not suggesting this is the “wrong way” of looking at the NBA, as we have seen short-sighted moves land franchises in years of mediocrity. It’s just to say there has just been a massive shift over the past decade in how we value in NBA player value and decisions.
28. Marvin Bagley (SCG): As he was panning the Knicks for the Kristaps Porzingis trade, Bill Simmons also said that he would have loved the trade had Sacramento offered the same assets with Marvin Bagley in place of Dennis Smith Jr.
While I strongly disagree with Simmons on the trade, I do think he — and several others at The Ringer — are right in their love of Bagley.
The type of NBA media that I follow and am directly involved with doesn’t share their enthusiasm. Bagley is erratic on defense, a black hole on offense and literally last among all NBA power forwards in RPM. His talent has always been undeniable, but his questionable impact on winning basketball is what made him going over Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Trae Young so frustrating to people.
Look, I share in these frustrations. All three were higher on my board last June, and I took all three in Parts I and II of this re-draft. Yet still, by NBA Twitter standards, I am a “Bagley guy.” He’s a 6’11” dude with the hybrid offensive game of an attacking wing, a rim-running 5 and a post-up big. He can’t shoot or defend yet, but he has shown the desire and talent to do both (he has solid touch and quick feet).
I think he’ll be a usage all-star at worst, and a real one at best. That dude is worth taking at the bottom of the re-draft, even if he wasn’t worth taking at №2 last June.
29. Zach LaVine (JS): Originally this pick was going to be Rudy Gobert. However, as time passed I found this pick to be inconsistent with what I value most in a franchise player: the ability to create. Zach LaVine may have several major deficiencies in his game—most noticeably defense and decision making—but the guy can create at a level that is exceedingly difficult to find in the NBA.
LaVine has become something of a punch line for NBA talking heads when they want to turn the discussion to players who don’t contribute to winning basketball. With this in mind, I was surprised when I looked up his stats this year- 31% usage (99th percentile for wings, per Cleaning the Glass) on 52 eFG%. A player who can combine that high of usage and still maintain league average efficiency is a guy who certainly catches my attention. Dismissing this as good stats on a bad team seems like somewhat of a lazy argument. Naysayers may attribute the lack of surrounding talent to what they see as inflated box score stats. However, when the floor is spaced by Robin Lopez and Kris Dunn, it’s impressive that LaVine has been able to produce at a somewhat efficient level. Look, I’m not saying LaVine strikes me as a particularly fun player to play with and it’s worth noting he has been on some truly awful teams. However, what he does well has immense value and when combined with his youth (age 23), I find myself rolling the dice on a low floor, high upside pick.
(SCG): This is essentially the Devin Booker argument: If a guy is efficient enough to theoretically be part of a winning team, can you blame him for his team losing? Certainly you can pin Chicago and Phoenix’s defensive struggles on their young shooting guards, but blaming them for their teams’ poor offenses is more fraught.
That said, there are reasons why Booker was my pick at №24 and LaVine was not on or even all that close to my board. First off is age — Booker is 22, while LaVine will turn 24 in a week. The second is health — while Booker hasn’t been a picture of it, he hardly has anything as serious as a torn ACL in his past.
In theory, LaVine could reach the same upside I am betting on with Booker. It just seems way less likely, and as such I’d rather gamble on younger (Lauri Markkanen, Jarrett Allen) or more proven (Gobert, Josh Richardson) talent here.
(JS): While a LaVine-Allen debate is tempting, I’m not sure our readers could stomach that this late in the redraft. Let’s move on.
30. Myles Turner (SCG): I was tempted to take Allen here, and may have in part passed on him to avoid the very debate you just alluded to. I would much rather write a few paragraphs on the polarizing Turner than the solid-but-unremarkable Allen.
That difference in intrigue, however, is not separate from re-draft value, particularly at the bottom. Allen is a safer bet than Turner, given his inarguable two-way value as a rim-diving, rim-protecting center. Turner still has major holes in his offensive game, and struggles to rebound at the level you’d like from a starting 5.
He’s also transformed into a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Year 4. A prolific shot-blocker since he entered the league, Turner is crushing his previous career high and leading the league with 2.8 per game. More importantly, his rejections are no longer coming at the expense of strong positional defense, as Turner is anchoring the league’s №2 unit.
Sure, there are holes in his game. But that’s what you get at №30 in the re-draft. He’s still not shooting enough 3s, though his percentage from deep (40.0) is extremely encouraging. His very real growth in terms of defense and physique show a drive to improve, and that, coupled with his age (Turner won’t be 23 for a month) is enough to warrant selection.