2014 NBA Draft Rankings

These rankings are based on my RSPM player formula, adjusted according to each player’s age. The older the player is, the harder it is for him to receive a high grade in this system.

This ranking includes the 30 players currently projected to be selected in the first round of the Draft Express mock draft. I will also list second round “hidden gems”: players that scouts believe are second-round prospects but received a high grade from my RSPM formula.

This ranking is going to be very unique in that it isn’t going to conform to the expectations placed upon the players by the media. Last year, while the media debated whether or not Ben McLemore should be the first overall pick, my formula labeled him as being more likely to bust than succeed in the NBA. It’s far too early to render a judgment one way or the other, but McLemore’s rookie season was not encouraging. In McLemore’s defense, there weren’t very many rookies who did have a good season last year.

The point is that there are some players the media believes are superstars that my analysis will label as being much worse than the media hype. There are also players who are flying under the radar who my analysis believes will out-perform expectations. I’m betting that my rankings will end up being more accurate than the mainstream media rankings and actual draft order in the end, in terms of which players actually succeed.

Before I begin the rankings, one thing I am very confident about is that this draft class has been brutally over-hyped by the media in general. The media portrayal of the 2014 NBA draft class is that it has a few superstars in waiting, like Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, and Jabari Parker. I don’t think there’s a single player in this year’s draft who is likely to be a superstar. I think there will be quite a few useful rotation players, and a small handful of All-Stars, but I don’t see any future Hall of Famers here.

PLAYERS LIKELY TO SUCCEED IN THE NBA (+1.00 or higher)

1. MARCUS SMART, PG Oklahoma State (+4.92)

Most of Smart’s headlines last season were about the incident where he shoved a fan and Oklahoma State’s mid-season losing streak. That’s completely unfair because Smart is an excellent draft prospect. He’s excellent at attacking the rim as he averaged 9.9 free throw attempts per 40 minutes. He’s an excellent rebounder for his position and a good passer as well (5.8 assists per 40). On top of that, Smart is a big point guard who actively grabs steals. The one element missing from Smart’s game is accuracy from long range as he only made 29.5% of his threes in college. If Smart can improve his long-range accuracy, then he’ll be a very well-rounded starting NBA point guard.

Smart is the single player I’m most confident will succeed in the NBA. It seems likely that a team will select Dante Exum over him, and I think that’s a mistake as I see Smart as easily the top point guard in this draft class.

2. JOEL EMBIID, C Kansas (+4.12)

A lot of people in private workouts have said that Joel Embiid has fully recovered from his back injury. If that’s the case then I see no reason why Cleveland should pass on Embiid with the first overall pick. He’s not the most prolific scorer, but he’s efficient, an excellent rebounder, and an outstanding shot blocker. On top of that, he already has good NBA size for a center at seven feet and 240 pounds. The only aspect of Embiid’s game I’m not thrilled with is his tendency to foul. Embiid averaged only 23.1 minutes per game at Kansas largely because of his 5.8 fouls per 40 minutes.

On the other hand, foul problems are common for young players and I believe Embiid can overcome this flaw over time. I agree with the mainstream on this one: Embiid is the premier center in the draft and worthy of a top three selection.

3. JORDAN ADAMS, SG UCLA (+4.06)

This is my first of what I’m sure will be a few “shock” rankings. Most people have Adams being drafted in the late first round, behind UCLA teammates Zach LaVine and Kyle Anderson. Compare Adams’ 2013-14 numbers to LaVine’s, and I don’t see how anybody can rank LaVine higher:

(All stats per 40 minutes)

Adams: 23.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 3.5 steals, 0.2 blocks, 2.0 turnovers, 2.9 fouls, 48.4% FG, 83.6% FT, 35.6% 3P

LaVine: 15.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.3 blocks, 1.9 turnovers, 3.2 fouls, 44.1% FG, 69.1% FT, 37.5% 3P

The only things LaVine has over Adams are a little bit of three-point accuracy and he’s half a year younger. And I guess LaVine has been “wowing” people in combine drills. But look at what Adams has been doing! He’s an outstanding scorer and rebounder for his position, and great on defense as well. Adams is the best shooting guard in this draft and nobody realizes it.

4. NOAH VONLEH, PF Indiana (+3.32)

Nothing about Vonleh’s statistics jumps off the page, but he’s very solid in all categories. He shoots 52.2% from the floor and draws fouls at a fairly high rate. He’s an excellent rebounder (13.6 rebounds per 40 minutes) and averages 3.4 blocks and steals per 40 minutes as well. What’s most significant is that Vonleh is one of the youngest players in this draft – he turns 19 in August – and he put up those statistics at Indiana, so it’s not like he was beating up on bad competition the whole time.

Aaron Gordon might be the better athlete, but if I’m choosing a power forward to develop for my team in the 6-10 range in this draft, I’m taking Vonleh.

5. KYLE ANDERSON, SF UCLA (+3.28)

Anderson is easily the most unique prospect I’ve looked at in the last two years. He’s a 6’9″ small forward but averaged 10.5 rebounds and 7.8 assists (!) per 40 minutes last year. He effectively operated as the point guard for the Bruins. It says something that Anderson’s assist rate is the highest of any draft prospect in 2014, including all the point guards. There are two knocks against Anderson. One is that he’s not a good athlete; that doesn’t concern me much as plenty of mediocre athletes have played at a high level in the NBA. The other is that Anderson isn’t a dominant scorer, and that part I agree with.

Still, this is a player with such a unique skill set that somebody has to take a look, right? Anderson might not fit into every team’s offense, but I have to think there’s a coach out there who can make the most of Anderson’s talents and cause serious headaches for opponents. I have to think that if a team takes Anderson after the lottery, they’re getting a steal.

6. JUSUF NURKIC, C International (+3.16)

This is where I have to step back from my formula a bit. RSPM sees Nurkic’s incredible scoring rate (26.8 points per 40) and impact play defensively (4.7 blocks and steals) and rates him highly. The problem is simple: 8.3 personal fouls per 40 minutes, limiting Nurkic to 16.1 minutes per game. It’s clear that Nurkic hasn’t figured out how to defend properly with his 280 pound frame.

I wouldn’t actually draft Nurkic over some of the guys ranked lower on this list because of that concern. However, the potential here is too great not to take Nurkic somewhere in the 12-18 range.

7. JABARI PARKER, PF Duke (+2.93)

Parker is one of the players people look at and envision a superstar future. I’m not quite so convinced. Now, Parker is a prolific scorer for sure, but his efficiency is not as high as I would like it to be. He scores a ton of points but takes a ton of shots in the process. Of course, if that makes him the power forward version of Russell Westbrook, that’s not a bad outcome. Parker is also a very good rebounder but his defensive metrics grade out as more average than good.

Parker is likely to be drafted in the top three and I don’t have a problem with it. He’s talented enough to deserve that status, and I think he’ll turn out to be an impact player for whichever team drafts him. I just think the hype is a little beyond Parker’s actual abilities.

8. CLINT CAPELA, PF International (+2.46)

Capela has become a “darling” of stats geeks like me, and I am ranking him highly as well. Capela is a rare player who scores at a high percentage (63% FG in the French league) and takes more than a few shots. His rebounding and defensive numbers are very good also. The only knock I have on Capela is that he doesn’t get to the free throw line a lot – but he still scores so efficiently that it almost doesn’t matter. Capela is definitely the non-lottery power forward to target in my humble opinion.

9. ELFRID PAYTON, PG Louisiana-Lafayette (+2.20)

Other than playing his games at Louisiana-Lafayette, I can’t figure out what’s wrong with Payton. He can score (21.4 points per 40), he can rebound (6.7), he can pass (6.6 assists), and he can defend (2.5 steals). He played 36 minutes per game. Payton gets to the free throw line very frequently as well. There are a lot of similarities between his statistical profile and Marcus Smart’s.

Damian Lillard showed that teams shouldn’t be afraid to draft point guards from more obscure schools. Payton is not a Lillard-level prospect but he’s a good one, and represents very good value in the middle of the first round.

10. DANTE EXUM, PG International (+1.85)

Exum is a difficult prospect to evaluate because I only have limited data on him. From the data I have, Exum scores at a high rate but not at particularly high efficiency. His rebounding and assist numbers are more average than good for a point guard. He’s fairly active on defense with 2.3 steals per 40, but that only rates as “adequate” instead of game-changing. The biggest point in Exum’s favor is that he doesn’t turn 19 until mid-July.

I see Exum as being more of a late-lottery gamble than an early-lottery “sure thing.” Scouts love him, so I could see preferring him to Elfrid Payton, but I can’t justify ranking him above Marcus Smart. I’m on the side of Exum succeeding in the NBA but I’m not confident in that assessment.

11. K.J. MCDANIELS, SF Clemson (+1.80)

McDaniels only barely makes this list because Draft Express currently has him being drafted at #29 overall. However, I want to make a statistical comparison right now:

Player A: 20.3 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.4 steals, 3.3 blocks, 2.7 turnovers, 45.9% FG, 84.2% FT, 30.4% 3P

Player B: 20.8 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.2 blocks, 2.8 turnovers, 44.8% FG, 77.5% FT, 34.1% 3P

These players are very similar, but Player B is a bit better from three point range while Player A is clearly the more imposing defender. Player A gets a lot more blocked shots and more rebounds as well. Of course, Player A is K.J. McDaniels while Player B is the much more hyped Andrew Wiggins.

I’d like to see McDaniels sharpen up his long-range shooting a bit, but if he can do that, I can see him settling in as a quality two-way NBA player, and that would make him a steal in the late first or early second round.

12. JULIUS RANDLE, PF Kentucky (+1.79)

Randle was one of the players who was projected early to be a potential first overall draft pick. A lot of people have backed off that projection, and that’s good because Randle is simply not that kind of prospect. The good thing about Randle is that he’s very good at drawing fouls and he’s an excellent rebounder. His 250 pound frame is difficult for opponents to handle in the post. The bad news is that Randle does not profile as a plus defender.

If I had to choose between Randle and Noah Vonleh, I would roll the dice with the younger Vonleh. I think Randle can succeed in the NBA, particularly on the offensive end, but he’s not a complete player.

13. JARNELL STOKES, PF Tennessee (+1.77)

Stokes is actually quite similar to Julius Randle, except he should be available in the late first round instead of being selected in the first half of the lottery. He’s good at drawing fouls and a good rebounder, although he’s not quite as good at Randle at either of those things. Stokes makes up for that with fewer turnovers, fewer fouls, and slightly more activity on defense.

Seriously, Stokes is extremely close to Randle as a prospect but is available much later in the draft. He should be a quality addition to a team drafting late in the first round and represents one of the better values in the draft.

14. ANDREW WIGGINS, SF Kansas (+1.16)

Before Wiggins played his freshman season at Kansas, he was considered the top prospect in the 2014 draft class. His play at Kansas caused a lot of people to question whether Wiggins was a product of hype or the real deal. Then the pre-draft process began and suddenly Wiggins was being debated as the top overall pick again. I don’t particularly care how high Wiggins can jump – I’m much more concerned that he’s merely “good” and not “great” in every statistical category.

If I’m sitting at third overall, with Joel Embiid and Jabari Parker off the board… I’m taking Marcus Smart and letting somebody else take the risk with Wiggins. I honestly see Wiggins as a 50-50 prospect: an equal chance of succeeding or busting in the NBA. There’s no way I would take him in the top three but that’s probably where he’s going.

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PLAYERS UNLIKELY TO SUCCEED IN THE NBA (+0.99 to -1.00)

These are players I believe will have an uphill battle in the NBA. I believe they are more likely to be NBA busts than successes, but they’re good enough that there is at least hope.

15. GARY HARRIS, SG Michigan St. (+0.84)

There’s nothing particularly great about Harris’s statistical profile. He doesn’t draw fouls at a high rate, he doesn’t shoot a high percentage, and his rebounding and passing are unremarkable. Harris’s best asset is his 35% three-point shooting, but at that percentage, Harris can’t rely on that as his only plus skill.

There’s nothing “wrong” with Harris, but there’s nothing really “right” either. If I’m looking at shooting guards, I’m much more interested in Jordan Adams than I am in Gary Harris.

16. AARON GORDON, PF Arizona (+0.83)

Gordon seems to be this year’s prospect whose high draft status is based more on athleticism than actual on-court accomplishments (along with Andrew Wiggins). He’s very young and raw, so it’s quite possible a sharp coach could mold Gordon into a force in the NBA… but he’s likely to be drafted by a team that isn’t so sharp. As for his statistics, Gordon shoots a decent percentage from the floor but isn’t a prolific scorer as he only scored 15.8 points per 40 minutes at Arizona. He’s a good but not great rebounder and his defensive statistics are mediocre (2.4 blocks and steals per 40).

Gordon is certainly skilled, so I see the upside. However, I could also see him just kind of fizzling out and I do think it highly depends on which team drafts him. For me, I couldn’t justify picking Gordon over Noah Vonleh, but I don’t mind him being taken in the late lottery.

17. TYLER ENNIS, PG Syracuse (+0.54)

It’s a lazy comparison to make, but Ennis really does profile similarly to Michael Carter-Williams last year. He’s a poor shooter (41% overall) who largely makes up for it with effective passing. Ennis doesn’t turn the ball over nearly as much as Carter-Williams did, but also doesn’t earn assists at quite the same rate. He’s definitely a pass-first point guard if you’re looking for one, but his relative lack of scoring is a red flag. Ennis also gets about the same overall draft grade for me that Carter-Williams got.

If you’re thinking that means Ennis might be a draft steal, I firmly disagree. Carter-Williams was a classic stat compiler for Philadelphia, a horribly inefficient player who simply racked up big points, rebounds, and assists totals. He certainly didn’t deserve to be the 2013-14 Rookie of the Year. I see Ennis as more of a nice passer to have on the bench than anything.

18. DARIO SARIC, PF International (+0.44)

I didn’t like Saric’s statistical profile last year, and I’m not a big fan this year either. Saric’s strengths are that he’s a good rebounder and a fairly good scorer, although his scoring is unremarkable compared to other players in this draft. His passing is pretty decent for his position as well. On the minus side, Saric is mediocre at best on defense and turns the ball over a lot.

Overall, Saric isn’t “bad” but I don’t see anything to suggest there’s a lottery prospect here. Saric is projected to be drafted in the 8-12 range and I think that’s simply too high. I’d rather gamble on Aaron Gordon if I’m in the market for a power forward.

19. SHABAZZ NAPIER, PG Connecticut (-0.13)

My methods are not kind to older draft prospects. This backfired on me a bit last year as I had poor grades for players like Mason Plumlee and Gorgui Dieng, who each had very good rookie seasons for Brooklyn and Minnesota respectively. I’ve softened the penalty for being 22 years old or older, but the best of that bunch still misses the cut this year. That’s Shabazz Napier, the star of UConn’s unlikely championship run this year.

Napier is a good scorer, good passer, and very good rebounder for his position. However, his statistics don’t jump off the page as I would like to see from an older NBA draft prospect. Napier is a guy I see as having a very high chance to contribute in a meaningful way in the NBA, but with a low ceiling. If I’m in the market for a late first-round point guard, I’m either hoping Elfrid Payton falls to me or gambling on Tyler Ennis.

20. T.J. WARREN, SF North Carolina State (-0.24)

If you want numbers that jump off the page, look no further than Warren’s 28.1 points per 40 minutes, second only to Doug McDermott in this draft class (and yes, we’re getting to McDermott). Warren is also a pretty decent rebounder, so why doesn’t he get a higher grade? The problem is that Warren takes a ton of shots to get so many points. He actually makes two-point shots at a high rate, but can’t shoot the three and doesn’t draw as many fouls as he should (relative to how many shots he takes).

I think Warren is fool’s gold, a points compiler whose game isn’t going to translate particularly well to the NBA. He’s projected for the middle of the first round. At that spot, I would explore trading down and taking K.J. McDaniels if I badly wanted a small forward.

21. MITCH MCGARY, C Michigan (-0.56)

I actually kind of like McGary’s statistical profile. He’s not a huge scorer and doesn’t draw fouls, but is a great rebounder and a very active defender. One odd thing about McGary is that he gets a ton of steals but not too many blocks despite playing the center position. He only barely makes this list, checking in at #30 on the Draft Express mock draft. Not helping McGary’s case is him being 22 years old.

I’m totally fine with McGary as a late first-round pick, for a team needing a big man who can play quality defense off the bench. At the same time, I wouldn’t expect anything more than that out of him.

22. JERAMI GRANT, SF Syracuse (-0.70)

I’m not seeing what Grant brings to the NBA that is going to help him succeed. He has two plus skills: the ability to draw fouls and the ability to rebound. However, Grant is not an efficient or prolific scorer, and that really reduces the effectiveness of his ability to get to the free throw line. His defensive metrics are also below-average at just 1.7 steals and blocks per 40 minutes.

Grant is being projected as a late first-round pick. At that point I would rather just take K.J. McDaniels if I was in the market for a small forward.

23. NIK STAUSKAS, SG Michigan (-0.79)

Stauskas played for a basketball powerhouse in Michigan. That’s great and all, but other than that, I’m simply boggled at the lottery projections for him. Stauskas doesn’t play defense (0.9 blocks and steals per 40), doesn’t rebound or pass at a high rate, and is only an average scorer by first-round NBA draft standards.

I have to think his lottery projections are a result of him getting increased exposure playing for Michigan. It’s amazing to me that Stauskas is probably being drafted in the lottery while Jordan Adams is a late first-round afterthought. I’m not going anywhere near Stauskas if I’m in the lottery.

24. P.J. HAIRSTON, SG D-League (Texas) (-0.90)

Hairston was a very respectable scorer in the D-League, scoring an average of 27.0 points per 40 minutes with decent three-point shooting ability. Unfortunately, Hairston didn’t show much of anything else. He didn’t rebound at a high rate and didn’t pass the ball at all. His defensive metrics are simply OK, nothing more. Hairston also didn’t draw fouls as much as a big-time scorer really should.

Once again… I’m not interested in Hairston as a post-lottery selection when Jordan Adams is still on the board. If Adams is gone then I’ll be brutally honest, I would just give up on taking a shooting guard at that point instead of taking Hairston.

25. DOUG MCDERMOTT, PF Creighton (-0.92)

I didn’t know whether to list McDermott as a small forward or power forward, and that’s part of the problem here. His defensive metrics are shockingly bad: 0.5 steals and blocks per 40 minutes. You almost have to try not to play defense to have statistics that bad. McDermott also isn’t much of a passer and doesn’t draw fouls at a particularly high rate.

With that said, Darryl is a big fan of McDermott and thinks he’ll be the Rookie of the Year next season. When Darryl says something like that, I listen… so I have to acknowledge the potential that McDermott blows this projection out of the water. With that said, my methodology simply does not like McDermott’s potential, with his hugely prolific scoring undone by a complete lack of defensive effort and his status as an older draft prospect.

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PROBABLE NBA BUSTS (-1.01 or worse)

Most of these players are not going to make it in the NBA. It’s possible that one or two of them defy the odds, but these are players I would avoid drafting if I was running a team.

26. JAMES YOUNG, SF Kentucky (-1.64)

Young shot 40% from the floor for the Wildcats last season, didn’t draw a lot of fouls, didn’t pass, and didn’t defend adequately either. Young’s three-point shooting is decent, but other than that, I don’t see any plus skills by NBA standards here. But hey, Young went to Kentucky.

27. ADREIAN PAYNE, PF Michigan St. (-2.60)

Payne was a pretty good scorer for Michigan St. last year although his foul drawing was fairly average. Payne was also a solid rebounder but his defense was average at best. The worst news for Payne is that he’s a 23 year old prospect. I don’t see the same high-level play that Gorgui Dieng could boast about last year, so I have to put Payne in the “bust” category.

28. ZACH LAVINE, SG UCLA (-2.68)

I touched on this when talking about Jordan Adams earlier. Adams is such a better statistical prospect than LaVine that it seems absurd that LaVine might be drafted earlier. LaVine has impressed people in combine workouts and drills, but his actual on-court performance is sorely lacking for plus NBA skills.

29. RODNEY HOOD, SF Duke (-3.36)

Hood is very similar to Zach LaVine in that I just can’t figure out what he does that has people so intrigued. Right now, Hood is projected as a fringe lottery selection. But Hood isn’t particularly great in any statistical category. He’s also creeping up on the age of 22 already. I don’t get how anybody can select Hood before T.J. Warren, let alone K.J. McDaniels.

30. JORDAN CLARKSON, SG Missouri (-4.24)

I can’t figure out this one either. Clarkson is not an efficient scorer and shot less than 30 percent from three-point range. He’s a 22 year old draft prospect. He’s not a great rebounder or passer. His defensive metrics are below-average. As far as plus NBA skills go, I’m drawing a blank here.

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SECOND ROUND “HIDDEN GEMS”

These are players expected to either be taken in the second round or undrafted entirely. My RSPM methodology has identified them as potential draft steals.

KHEM BIRCH, PF UNLV (+2.69)

At 6’9″ and 209 pounds, Birch is on the skinny side for a power forward but was a monster rebounder and shot blocker for UNLV. Birch averaged 13.0 rebounds and 4.8 blocks last year. He wasn’t a prolific scorer, but was good at drawing fouls and getting to the line when he had the ball. Birch strikes me as a player who could give NBA teams quality rim protection, which is why I’m astonished that he isn’t getting more attention in the draft process.

SPENCER DINWIDDIE, SG Colorado (+2.02)

Dinwiddie is the most interesting statistical case next to Kyle Anderson. He doesn’t take a ton of shots but gets to the free throw line a lot and scores at an extremely efficient rate. He’s also a pretty good passer and has decent defensive metrics. The lack of scoring volume could be a red flag, but Dinwiddie’s efficiency (1.17 points per possession) is enough for me to keep an eye on him.

And that’s it! No other second round prospects got a passing grade in my system. I’ll be back after the draft to recap which teams I thought got good value with their draft picks.

NBA Vegas SRS Rankings 11/19

What Vegas thinks of the 30 NBA teams…

Team Vegas SRS Record
Miami +6.8 7-3
LA Clippers +6.5 7-4
San Antonio +6.2 9-1
Oklahoma City +4.9 7-3
Golden State +4.5 8-3
Indiana +4.3 9-1
Houston +4.1 7-4
Chicago +3.7 6-3
Memphis +2.7 6-5
Minnesota +2.6 7-4
Brooklyn +1.5 3-7
Dallas +1.2 7-4
Portland +1.0 9-2
New Orleans +0.9 4-6
New York -0.1 3-6
Detroit -0.5 3-6
Denver -0.7 4-6
Atlanta -0.7 6-4
Toronto -0.9 4-7
Washington -1.2 2-7
Cleveland -1.7 4-7
Sacramento -2.4 2-7
Phoenix -3.7 5-4
Orlando -4.2 4-6
Boston -4.9 4-7
LA Lakers -5.2 5-7
Charlotte -5.4 5-6
Milwaukee -5.6 2-7
Utah -5.8 1-11
Philadelphia -6.3 5-7

Week 2 NFL Team Rankings

Based on my initial impression of each NFL team and the week 1 results, here are my rankings of the 32 teams going into the week 2 games:

TIER 1

1. Denver (1-0) – the best team in the league until proven otherwise

TIER 2

2. Seattle (1-0) – basically tied with San Francisco, great QB and defense

3. San Francisco (1-0) – Kaepernick may be unstoppable, run D is suffocating

4. Green Bay (0-1) – best QB in the league but shaky O-line and mediocre D

5. New England (2-0) – offense should improve dramatically when Gronk returns

TIER 3

6. Washington (0-1) – when RG3 is physically 100 percent, the Redskins will be very good

7. Houston (1-0) – balanced offense and very tough D

8. Pittsburgh (0-1) – not overreacting to one game, giving Steelers benefit of doubt for now

TIER 4

9. New Orleans (1-0) – great QB, if D is for real then they’re a Super Bowl contender

10. Atlanta (0-1) – good QB/defense but not exceptional on either side

11. Cincinnati (0-1) – quality defense and improving QB

12. St. Louis (1-0) – underrated QB/defense = underrated team

TIER 5

13. Kansas City (1-0) – even against Jacksonville, winning 28-2 on the road is a feat

14. Dallas (1-0) – Romo can win games but defense is very shaky

15. NY Giants (0-1) – OK/good everywhere, great nowhere

16. Carolina (0-1) – defense is for real but Newton can’t beat good teams

17. Baltimore (0-1) – losing Ray Lewis and Ed Reed stings

18. Arizona (0-1) – much improved pass offense but if pass D is gone they will fall quickly

TIER 6

19. Detroit (1-0) – looked awesome against Minnesota, decent QB and improving D

20. Chicago (1-0) – defense can create turnovers but I still don’t trust Cutler

21. Miami (1-0) – have playmakers on D but need Tannehill to improve

22. Tennessee (1-0) – surprising performance in Pittsburgh but Locker is still the QB

23. San Diego (0-1) – not terrible anywhere but not great anywhere either

24. Minnesota (0-1) – if Ponder is a turnover machine the Vikings are toast

25. Indianapolis (1-0) – I’m a fan of Luck but barely beating Oakland is not a good sign

TIER 7

26. Philadelphia (1-0) – shockingly good in first half against Washington, again not overreacting to one game

27. Tampa Bay (0-1) – Freeman is unlikely to survive the year as starting QB

28. Cleveland (0-1) – defense is OK but Weeden is not a long-term answer

29. NY Jets (1-1) – Smith is a disaster but pass D will keep them in games

TIER 8

30. Buffalo (0-1) – close game against Patriots doesn’t look as impressive in retrospect

TIER 9

31. Jacksonville (0-1) – deserves to be #32 with Gabbert starting, with Henne they get to be #31

32. Oakland (0-1) – it’s not good when Pryor is forced to throw

 

With that said here are my picks against the spread for week 2… I didn’t publish my week 1 picks but they were 5-10-1 so it’s just as well. My straight-up picks were 13-3 so that’s good.

NY Jets (+12) at New England – I know, the game already happened, but that was my pick. I just admitted to going 5-10-1 last week so cut me some slack.

San Diego (+7.5) at Philadelphia – Not buying the Eagles as a playoff team yet. They’re better than I thought but need to prove it in more than one game.

Baltimore (-6.5) vs. Cleveland – The Ravens are now an average team but that’s good enough to win at home against Cleveland.

Tennessee (+9.5) at Houston – Pretty tough line, I’ll take the points but this could swing either way.

Indianapolis (-3) vs. Miami – Exactly where the line should be. I’ll default to the home team.

Buffalo (+3) vs. Carolina – I like Carolina to win the game but if you’re giving me three points I’ll take Buffalo to cover.

St. Louis (+7) at Atlanta – Rams might be the most underrated team in football right now. They can keep this one close.

Washington (+7.5) at Green Bay – The Redskins should cover if RG3 is back to 100 percent… but I doubt he is.

Kansas City (-3) vs. Dallas – Fair line, time to see what the Chiefs can do against non-Gabbert.

Chicago (-6) vs. Minnesota – Normally I would take the points, but as a Vikings fan I know bad things happen in Chicago.

Tampa Bay (+3) vs. New Orleans – Seems counter-intuitive but it’s almost always a good idea to bet against the dome team going outdoors.

Jacksonville (+6) at Oakland – This line makes no sense. With Henne at QB the Jaguars should be +1.5 at Oakland.

NY Giants (+4.5) vs. Denver – The Giants won’t always be a turnover machine like they were in Dallas. This should be a close one.

Arizona (+1) vs. Detroit – I believe the Rams/Cardinals are badly underrated, time to put that to the test.

San Francisco (+3) at Seattle – Seattle by 3 is a correct line, but when I made the pick San Francisco +3 was cheaper than Seattle -3.

Pittsburgh (+7) at Cincinnati – I’m not ready to bury the Steelers yet, but I might change my mind if the Bengals squash them.

A Simple Way to Rank NFL Teams

The NFL is all about the quarterback. The quarterback is by far the most important position on a team. It’s extremely rare for a team with a poor quarterback to win a Super Bowl. Everybody likes to mention Trent Dilfer on the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, but I like to think of that as the exception that proves the rule. The 2000 Ravens had one of the best defenses of all time.

My simple way of ranking NFL teams is mostly about the quarterback. First, I rank the 32 starting quarterbacks, then I adjust teams with strong defenses upward, and adjust teams with weak defenses downward.

How should I rank the quarterbacks? I decided to combine three statistics: traditional passer rating, DVOA, and Total QBR. Then I decided to nudge old quarterbacks down a little, and give quarterbacks who were rookies last year a slight boost.

The result is the following ranking of quarterbacks:

  1. Aaron Rodgers
  2. Peyton Manning
  3. Tom Brady
  4. Robert Griffin III
  5. Russell Wilson
  6. Colin Kaepernick
  7. Drew Brees
  8. Ben Roethlisberger
  9. Matt Ryan
  10. Tony Romo
  11. Matt Schaub
  12. Alex Smith
  13. Andrew Luck
  14. Eli Manning
  15. Cam Newton
  16. Matthew Stafford
  17. Joe Flacco
  18. Sam Bradford
  19. Andy Dalton
  20. Christian Ponder
  21. Josh Freeman
  22. Carson Palmer
  23. Ryan Tannehill
  24. Philip Rivers
  25. Jay Cutler
  26. Michael Vick
  27. Brandon Weeden
  28. Jake Locker
  29. Blaine Gabbert
  30. Mark Sanchez
  31. E.J. Manuel
  32. Matt Flynn

I’m assuming Mark Sanchez, E.J. Manuel, and Matt Flynn will win their respective position battles. If it’s Geno Smith instead of Mark Sanchez and Terrelle Pryor instead of Matt Flynn, nothing changes for me. If it’s Kevin Kolb instead of E.J. Manuel then I would upgrade Buffalo.

Manuel and Flynn didn’t play last year, but I’m ranking them at the bottom because that’s my best guess for how good they will be.

I like to think of NFL teams as being on one of nine tiers. Before adjusting for defenses, here’s what those tiers look like based on the above rankings:

Tier 1: None

Tier 2: Green Bay, Denver, New England, Washington

Tier 3: Seattle, San Francisco, New Orleans, Pittsburgh

Tier 4: Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City

Tier 5: Indianapolis, NY Giants, Carolina, Detroit, Baltimore, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Minnesota

Tier 6: Tampa Bay, Arizona, Miami, San Diego

Tier 7: Chicago, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Tennessee

Tier 8: Jacksonville, NY Jets, Buffalo, Oakland

Tier 9: None

Adjusting for defenses is simple. If a team finished in the top 10 of weighted defensive DVOA last year, they move up a tier. If a team finished in the bottom 10, they move down a tier.

That results in the following tiers:

Tier 1: Denver

Tier 2: Green Bay, New England, Washington, Seattle, San Francisco, Pittsburgh

Tier 3: Houston

Tier 4: New Orleans, Atlanta, St. Louis, Cincinnati

Tier 5: Dallas, Kansas City, NY Giants, Carolina, Baltimore, Arizona

Tier 6: Indianapolis, Detroit, Minnesota, Miami, San Diego, Chicago

Tier 7: Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Tennessee, NY Jets

Tier 8: Philadelphia, Buffalo

Tier 9: Jacksonville, Oakland

So based on those tiers, here are my preseason NFL team rankings:

  1. Denver
  2. Green Bay
  3. New England
  4. Washington
  5. Seattle
  6. San Francisco
  7. Pittsburgh
  8. Houston
  9. New Orleans
  10. Atlanta
  11. St. Louis
  12. Cincinnati
  13. Dallas
  14. Kansas City
  15. NY Giants
  16. Carolina
  17. Baltimore
  18. Arizona
  19. Indianapolis
  20. Detroit
  21. Minnesota
  22. Miami
  23. San Diego
  24. Chicago
  25. Tampa Bay
  26. Cleveland
  27. Tennessee
  28. NY Jets
  29. Philadelphia
  30. Buffalo
  31. Jacksonville
  32. Oakland

Over the course of a season, I’ll move teams to different tiers based on actual game results.

OVERRATED NFL TEAMS 2013

Chicago: If Marc Trestman can make Jay Cutler an above-average NFL quarterback, my hat’s off to him. For now, I have to assume that Cutler will play at the same level, and that means a disappointing season for the Bears.

Detroit: Nobody respects/fears the Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson connection more than I do. Are the Lions ready to stop opponents on defense?

Miami: This one boggles my mind. Why exactly do people think Miami will have a winning record this year? Is Ryan Tannehill that inspiring?

Philadelphia: I acknowledge the chance that Chip Kelly’s offense/strategy will revolutionize the NFL. I also recognize that Michael Vick is once again the starting QB and the defense remains miserable.

UNDERRATED NFL TEAMS 2013

Washington: Am I the only one who noticed that Robert Griffin III had by far the best season of any 22-year-old quarterback ever? Or do people think his bones are made out of glass and he’ll get injured as soon as somebody touches him?

St. Louis: Last year’s most underrated NFL team remains underrated. Sam Bradford quietly had a solid season and the Rams defense was quietly very good. St. Louis is my choice for potential “shock” playoff team of 2013.

Carolina: I didn’t think I’d be saying this, but the Panthers might be a bit underrated. I see them as league-average and a fringe playoff contender, which is a notch above the predictions I’ve seen floating around out there.

Arizona: The Cardinals defense was awesome last year, and undone by having John Skelton at QB. Now they have Carson Palmer, who is not great but is worthy of starting in the NFL. Their over-under win total should not be the same as Jacksonville and Oakland.

Minnesota: I know, I know… Vikings fan thinks Lions and Bears are overrated and Vikings are underrated. It seems people think the Vikings will suck because of Christian Ponder, but Ponder wasn’t nearly as bad as people think he was last year.

2013 NBA Draft Preview: 26-30

These are the final five players in my rankings of NBA draft prospects projected to go in the first round. I will never completely count out any player’s chances of success, but I think these players are the most likely to end up as busts in the NBA.

#26: SHABAZZ MUHAMMAD: 20 years old, SF, UCLA (-2.57)

Over the past couple months, I’ve watched as Muhammad’s draft stock has slowly declined from the top five to out of the lottery altogether. It would not shock me if Muhammad ended up being selected in the second round when the draft actually takes place.

There’s certainly some talent with Muhammad; there’s a reason he was so hyped up in the first place. However, a look at the statistics showed that Muhammad was unable to translate his talent into being a valuable player on the court.

The one point in Muhammad’s favor is that he scored 20.9 points per 36 minutes, but that was on just 0.98 points per possession. After that, there’s nothing about Muhammad’s statistics that suggests he’s ready for the NBA. His defensive metrics in particular are very poor.

What really scares me away from Muhammad is his character. This is a player who’s been known to pout because a teammate made a game-winning shot. His father was caught lying about his age (he’s 20, not 19). Muhammad might have talent, but would you really want to gamble on a player who was not good at UCLA and has all sorts of character questions? It’s possible that Muhammad succeeds, but if I was a general manager, I’d want nothing to do with him.

#27: MASON PLUMLEE – 23 years old, C, Duke (-2.61)

Plumlee joins Kelly Olynyk, Gorgui Dieng, and Jeff Withey as players who turned in excellent senior seasons, but are too old for me to consider good NBA draft prospects. Plumlee certainly showcased a good offensive game for Duke, but falls well short of the standards I’ve set for college players in the draft.

If it seems like an unfair criticism, consider some of the NBA players who are the same age as Plumlee. For example, Paul George, who arrived as a top 20 NBA player this year, is 23. Ricky Rubio is 22. Even James Harden is just 23. Is a player like Plumlee really ready to be compared to these guys?

Ultimately, Plumlee doesn’t score enough points and doesn’t block enough shots to overcome his status as an older prospect. He might carve out a role as a reserve big man on some team, but I highly doubt he’ll be more successful than that as a professional.

#28: ISAIAH CANAAN: 22 years old, PG, Murray State (-3.15)

Canaan is also hurt badly by being a player 22 years old or older, but in his case, he could be 19 and I still wouldn’t regard him as one of the draft’s top prospects. Canaan lacks the efficiency on offense or defense for me to consider him a likely NBA success.

What Canaan does bring to the table is the ability to be a lead scorer, at 21.5 points per 36 minutes. Of course, he did that for a smaller school at Murray State, but it’s not insignificant. Canaan also showed a respectable assist rate.

Unfortunately for Canaan, his other metrics suggest that he’s not prepared to take on the NBA. He didn’t score with great efficiency (1.00 points per possession) and didn’t get very many takeaways either (1.6 blocks and steals per 36 minutes). There are too many good point guard options in this draft for me to endorse Canaan as being worthy of a first-round pick.

#29: DENNIS SCHROEDER: 19 years old, PG, Germany (-3.23)

Schroeder must look fantastic in private and combine workouts, because I can’t imagine why he’s being so hyped otherwise. Schroeder has moved up mock draft boards enough recently that he’s become a fringe lottery pick.

I don’t see it in his numbers. The talk is that Schroeder is similar to Rajon Rondo, but my retort is: if he’s so much like Rondo, why isn’t he getting more assists? Schroeder had 4.5 assists per 36 minutes for Braunschweig, a decent enough number but far shy of Rondo territory.

Where Schroeder is similar to Rondo is that he’s not a terrific shooter. He shot just 42 percent from the floor for a dismal 0.88 points per possession. To make matters worse, he didn’t show much on the defensive end of the floor either, getting just 1.3 steals and 0 blocks per 36 minutes.

There are a couple foreign prospects in this draft that I’m intrigued by and think have a decent chance of succeeding in the NBA. Dennis Schroeder is not one of them. There’s nothing about his stat line that makes me think he’s remotely ready to play in the toughest league in the world.

#30: TIM HARDAWAY JR. – 21 years old, SG, Michigan (-4.05)

While I’m perplexed about the sudden rise of Dennis Schroeder on mock draft boards, I can’t say the same about Tim Hardaway Jr. Don’t get me wrong, Hardaway Jr. is not a good NBA prospect at all… but he is the son of former all-star point guard Tim Hardaway, so up the boards he goes.

I don’t want to be too harsh, but his stat line is completely lacking of anything good I can say. If I had to say something good… his defensive rebounding rate is decent for a shooting guard (4.6 DREB/36). Other than that, it’s slim pickings.

Hardaway Jr. scored 0.95 points per possession, didn’t get many assists (2.5 AST/36), and didn’t show much ability to get to the free throw line. There’s no saving grace in his defensive metrics either – just 1.2 blocks and steals per 36 minutes.

Again, I’m not counting anybody completely out. However, if we’re playing a game of probability… I would guess that Hardaway Jr. has a less than 10 percent chance of success in the NBA. Still, nostalgia reigns supreme, which means it’s likely that some NBA team will spend (and probably waste) their first-round pick on him.

2013 NBA Draft Preview: 21-25

My top 13 prospects, from Nerlens Noel to Jamaal Franklin, are players I think have a better than 50-50 chance of succeeding in the NBA. My players ranked 14-20 are players I think have a less than 50-50 chance of succeeding, but still a decent chance.

I can’t say that about the players I’m going to rank in the next two posts. These players are very likely to be busts in the NBA, for reasons I’ll explain for each player.

#21: KELLY OLYNYK – 22 years old, C, Gonzaga (-1.11)

Let’s be clear about this: Kelly Olynyk was an outstanding college player. He shot 63 percent from the floor and was good at drawing fouls. He grabbed 10 rebounds per 36 minutes. He scored a whopping 24.3 points per 36 minutes in leading Gonzaga to a top seed in the 2013 NCAA tournament.

Olynyk’s biggest problem is simple: he’s 22 years old. All of the players I’ve ranked so far have been 21 or younger. The reason is simple: players who enter the draft at 22 years old or older have a greatly diminished rate of success in the NBA.

To illustrate this, here are the players who were drafted in the first round from 2010-2012 at 22 years old or older:

  • Tyler Zeller
  • Andrew Nicholson
  • Festus Ezeli
  • Fab Melo
  • Miles Plumlee
  • JaJuan Johnson
  • Norris Cole
  • MarShon Brooks
  • Jimmer Fredette
  • Nolan Smith
  • Damion James
  • Wes Johnson
  • Trevor Booker
  • Quincy Pondexter
  • Ekpe Udoh
  • Greivis Vasquez
  • Lazar Hayward
  • Craig Brackins

Who is the standard-bearer here? Quincy Pondexter? Greivis Vasquez?

Olynyk could have still graded out as a good prospect if he had shown good defensive metrics, but unfortunately, he was only good for 2.4 blocks and steals per 36 minutes. As great as his offensive output was, I have to stand on the side of Olynyk not making it in the NBA.

#22: GORGUI DIENG – 23 years old, C, Louisville (-1.14)

This one hurts, because I really like Gorgui Dieng as a player. He doesn’t take a lot of shots, but much like Steven Adams, he provides excellent rebounding and defense. He was the anchor for the Louisville team that won the national championship this year.

The difference between Adams and Dieng is that Adams is 19 years old and Dieng is 23. This is a critically important point. If you don’t believe me, find a 16 year old baseball player who’s struggling against his peers. Have him play against nothing but 12 year old kids. Watch as the 16 year old dominates the game.

Age and development matter, and that’s why players like Olynyk, Dieng, and Jeff Withey (who we’re about to get to) don’t rate as good prospects in my system. Four years from now, players like Noel and Adams will have progressed a ton, while the older prospects will probably not have improved much.

With that said, if there’s an older center in this draft who catches on in the NBA, I think it’s most likely going to be Dieng due to the superb defense he showed for Louisville.

#23: JEFF WITHEY – 23 years old, C, Kansas (-1.59)

It’s hard to say bad things about players like Olynyk, Dieng, and Withey, because they really were outstanding college players. Withey was an efficient scorer for Kansas and provided a terrific shot blocking presence. Among first-round prospects, Withey’s 4.6 blocks per 36 minutes is equaled only by Nerlens Noel.

Let’s be clear: it is possible for a player 22 or older to get a passing grade in this system. To do it, though, they need outstanding numbers. If Olynyk, Dieng, or Withey had numbers as good as that of Anthony Davis last year, I’d give them a passing grade despite their older age.

I don’t like counting these guys out, but the evidence against them is pretty overwhelming. There are some really good options at center in this draft, so if a team really wants to draft one, there shouldn’t be a need to go for these guys.

#24: ALLEN CRABBE – 21 years old, SG, California (-1.72)

Finally, back to a player I can criticize for something other than his age. Crabbe did show decent rebounding ability for a guard (6.0 REB/36) and scored 18.3 points per game as a junior. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find nice things to say after that.

Crabbe was not a particularly efficient scorer at 0.99 points per possession. He didn’t show much ability to draw fouls or get assists. To top it off, he only had 1.8 blocks and steals per 36 minutes, indicative of mediocre defense.

When I look for players ready to succeed in the NBA, I like seeing players who dominate at the college level. From his scoring to his defense, Crabbe’s numbers suggest that he was merely a good college player. That’s not good enough for me to embrace him as a first-round NBA draft prospect.

#25: REGGIE BULLOCK – 22 years old, SF, North Carolina (-2.50)

You might expect me to continue ranting about age, but Bullock wouldn’t have had a passing grade at 21 years old either. What makes Bullock a somewhat intriguing prospect is that he was an incredibly efficient scorer as a junior for North Carolina.

He scored 1.13 points per possession despite only shooting 2.4 free throws per 36 minutes. That’s because he established himself as a very good marksman, shooting 43 percent from three-point range.

Like Sergey Karasev, Bullock suffers on the defensive end of the floor, where he only got 1.7 blocks and steals per 36 minutes. What makes him a worse prospect than Karasev in my opinion is the fact that he’s 22 instead of 19. Again, players who can shoot and play good defense are rare. Players who can only shoot are a dime a dozen. (To be fair, Bullock is a good rebounder too.)

2013 NBA Draft Preview: 16-20

#16: PIERRE JACKSON – 21 years old, PG, Baylor (+0.44)

Until just yesterday, Jackson was not projected as a first-round pick by Draft Express. Now, with his inclusion in the group of players projected to go in the first round, Jackson is ranked #16 on my list. (These rankings are for projected first-round prospects only.)

As a player who is only 5’10”, Jackson needs to have good offensive point guard skills. He definitely qualifies in the assists category, as he got 7.3 assists per 36 minutes as a senior at Baylor. He also showed above-average ability to draw fouls, as he shot 6.9 free throws per 36 minutes.

If Jackson was an efficient scorer, he would qualify as one of my prospects likely to succeed in the NBA. Unfortunately, Jackson’s scoring efficiency is average at best. He shot 43 percent from the floor and scored at a rate of 0.97 points per possession. As expected, Jackson profiles as a defensive liability; he got zero blocks and only 1.6 steals per 36 minutes.

I can see Jackson possibly catching on as a reserve point guard in the NBA. He’s definitely shown the ability to run an offense and pile up assists. However, Jackson’s limitations, both as a scorer and defender, prevent him from making the cut as a player I think is likely to do well as a professional.

#17: MICHAEL CARTER-WILLIAMS – 21 years old, PG, Syracuse (+0.43)

Out of all players eligible to be selected in this year’s draft, Carter-Williams had the third-highest assist rate, at 7.4 assists per 36 minutes. That’s a good start, but unfortunately for Carter-Williams, his scoring is too much of a liability for me to grade him as a probable NBA success.

Carter-Williams shot just under 40 percent from the floor for Syracuse, and didn’t show a great ability to get to the free throw line either. Overall, he only scored 0.77 points per possession, a number which serves as an indictment of his ability to score with any kind of efficiency in the NBA.

What Carter-Williams has going for him (and why he’s not lower on my list) is his defensive metrics are actually very good. He got 2.8 steals and 0.5 blocks per 36 minutes, numbers which compare favorably with any other point guard available in this draft.

A team that drafts Carter-Williams will be getting a pass-first guard who can play quality defense. Sadly, his complete lack of ability to score with efficiency is too much of a red flag for me to ignore. I understand why teams would be interested in Carter-Williams, but Trey Burke is the better point guard option in my opinion.

#18: BEN MCLEMORE – 20 years old, SG, Kansas (+0.03)

This is likely to be my most controversial grading. McLemore has often been projected as a top three pick in the NBA draft. I’ve seen arguments that suggest McLemore should be the top overall pick. When I look at the statistical profile, I simply cannot understand what has people so excited.

What McLemore does bring to the table is excellent shooting ability. He shot almost 50 percent from the floor as a guard, including 42 percent from three-point range. He scored 1.10 points per possession, which rates extremely well among the guards eligible for this year’s draft.

The problem with McLemore is that he doesn’t bring anything else to the table. His rebounding, passing, and defensive metrics are all average or worse. Compare McLemore to C.J. McCollum, another efficient scorer who scored more points, had better rebounding and passing metrics, and similar defensive metrics.

For me to give a prospect a grade of likely success, he needs to show me more than one thing. Yes, scoring is the single best thing I can see out of a prospect. However, if McLemore turns out to be Kevin Martin, is that really a player worthy of the #2 pick? I would understand if McLemore was drafted in the late lottery, but I can’t support a team’s decision to draft him in the top three.

#19: SHANE LARKIN – 20 years old, PG, Miami (FL) (-0.11)

Larkin is a point guard whose metrics just don’t get to where they need to be for me to call him a good prospect. Larkin did play 36 minutes per game for a very highly ranked team, but it’s hard for me to see what he brings to the NBA that will help him stand out against the best players in the world.

The one point in Larkin’s favor besides experience is that he did shoot 41 percent from three-point range. If he catches on in the NBA, it will likely be because of his ability to make shots. Overall, Larkin scored 1.01 points per possession, which is a decent rate, but again, doesn’t really stand out.

Larkin’s other metrics are very unexciting. He had 3.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.9 steals per 36 minutes. He didn’t show much ability to get to the free throw line (2.3 FTA/36) and also didn’t show the ability to take on a lead scoring role (14.3 PTS/36).

If Larkin was still just 18 years old, I could see him developing into a quality NBA point guard. At 20 years old, it’s hard to get excited about him. Players who can shoot have some value from that alone, but Larkin is likely to face an uphill battle in the NBA.

#20: SERGEY KARASEV – 19 years old, SF, Russia (-0.80)

A common remark I’ve seen made recently is that NBA players who can both shoot and play quality defense are surprisingly hard to find. Players like Thabo Sefolosha and Shane Battier are often unheralded, but play a very valuable role for championship contending teams.

Karasev has the shooting part down. He’s a prolific three-point shooter who scored at a rate of 1.08 points per possession in the Russian league despite shooting 44 percent from the floor. He’s not much of a slasher, but he can definitely shoot.

Unfortunately, my complaint about players like Ben McLemore and Shane Larkin applies here too. Karasev can shoot, but what else does he bring to the table? He only got 3.3 rebounds per 36 minutes, which is a very low rate for a small forward. He also didn’t show much ability to pass, at 2.6 assists per 36.

Most troubling for Karasev are his awful defensive metrics. Karasev only got a mere 0.6 steals and 0.4 blocks per 36 minutes. Players who can shoot and play defense are rare, but players who can only shoot are a dime a dozen. That’s why I can’t get excited about Karasev.