Anonymous scouts offer brutally honest takes on top NBA prospects
Finch is getting sentimental in his old age. "The quality of these kids is unbelievable. There are very few bad kids anymore," he told me. "I think a lot of these kids have figured out that being a badass doesn't work anymore. Acting right has become more important. I'm telling you, it's mind-blowing the quality of people that are coming out of college basketball right now."
Note that Finch wasn't talking about the quality of players in this year's NBA draft class. He was talking about their collective character. That's a hopeful sign that college basketball is healthy, that the sport overall has a promising future, and that character still counts for something. Pretty good themes as we head into Thursday night's Draft.
By this point, of course, Finch is an international sensation, but for the scant few who are unfamiliar, allow me to explain. Every year around this time, I interview a handful of NBA scouts. (This year, I spoke with five of them.) I walk them through a long list of the college players who are available to be drafted. (I stay away from the international guys, since that is not my bailiwick). In exchange for their unvarnished assessments, I grant them anonymity, not only from my readers, but also from each other.
After collecting all those insights, I whittle down their opinions to a few penetrating sentences. I present those quotes verbatim as if they come from a single person—an amalgam, if you will. That "person" is named Finch, in honor of young Scout Finch, the protagonist in To Kill A Mockingbird. (As always, I give full credit to my highly literate SI colleague Alex Wolff for coming up with that nom d'amalgam. Also, if you haven't read that book, please put down your device and begin it this instant.)
Normally, Finch is a grouchy, dyspeptic, glass-is-half-empty type of guy. He is, after all, a professional nitpicker. It was heartwarming to hear his upbeat take about the players. Still, as always, there were plenty of nits to pick. This is Finch's big week, and he's ready to weigh in. So here's what he thinks about ...
Ron Baker, 6'4" senior guard, Wichita State: "Probably overrated as a shooter and underrated as an overall player. He's not an NBA talent, but he has some intangibles. He had a tendency to be their best player in the last five minutes. Maybe he gets drafted end of the second round, but he's probably headed for Europe."
Wade Baldwin, 6'4" sophomore guard, Vanderbilt: "[Sighs.] He'll get picked because of his size and his length, but he just doesn't have that sense of vision to be a floor general. His numbers show he's a good shooter but he takes a little too much time to get his jumper off. One of the longest guards we've see in a while. The question is, can he lead? What he did at Vanderbilt suggests he can't. I think it's pretty well known there was a disconnect between him and that coaching staff. Who's to blame, I don't know. But you're talking about a freak athlete with size. It wouldn't stun me if he goes in the lottery."
Anthony "Cat" Barber, 6'3" junior guard, NC State: "Fastest guy in the draft. A small scoring point. I don't think he makes people better, but he has an ability to put the ball in the basket. He doesn't have an NBA three right now. He needs to be more of a ball hawk defensively. I don't know why he left college because he's not going to be a first round pick. If you leave because you're scared of the guy coming in behind you, how good are you really?"
Malik Beasley, 6'5" freshman guard, Florida State: "Probably one of the two or three best shooters in the draft. A lot depends on what your doctor will say. If he hadn't had that [stress fracture] injury he might have been a top-10 pick. He has a rod in his leg. Great kid, special kid, humble teammate. Little bit of a one-dimensional game. I'd be very surprised if he doesn't go in the first round. He's a little undersized for a shooting guard, but the upside is that he's an amazing kid with an incredible work ethic. If he had stayed in college for four years he would have been a Buddy Hield-type player."
DeAndre Bembry, 6'6" senior forward, Saint Joseph's: "Versatile, multi-positional player. Smart. He's probably going to fall in a range where he ends up on a real good team. Really smart, heady kid. He's got the 40-year-old man's YMCA game already. What position he guards is probably a question, but he'll find a way to make an impact. The big hiccup is whether he will make enough shots, but if you put him in a game with shooters, then people will realize this guy can play. I could see him being in the class of a Jae Crowder."
Ben Bentil, 6'8" sophomore forward, Providence: "He has made probably as meteoric a rise in a year as anybody I've seen in a while. He's a high volume shooter, but he's a competitive, athletic kid that has range. Not a very good passer and a bad defender. He didn't rebound well enough. But we like pick-and-pop fours with strength, and he's the poster boy for that. You love the work he put in to improve his offense, but he's gotten away from priding himself on defense and rebounding."
Malcolm Brogdon, 6'5" senior guard, Virginia: "Classic leader, winner. Will be able to play two positions. He's not an over-the-top athlete, but he's an over-the-top character guy, so he's gonna figure it out. Wouldn't shock me if he's president in 20 years. A little stuck between positions. That homemade jump shot gives you pause. His age hurts him—he's 23 because of his redshirt year. He measured 6'5" but his wingspan is 6'11", which is obscene. He's going to struggle getting his own shot off. I could see teams picking him as a [Cavaliers guard Matthew] Dellavedova-type player."
Jaylen Brown, 6'7" freshman forward, California: "Biggest mystery in the draft. What does he do? He's an average ballhandler. He's a below average shooter. In AAU and college he played bully ball, but that doesn't translate to the NBA. Little bit of a funky personality. I don't know that anybody really knows what makes that kid tick. His basketball IQ is lacking. Special physical specimen and athlete. The trouble is when you make him go multiple directions. His last month and a half was awful. Makes me really nervous."
Robert Carter, 6'9" junior forward, Maryland: "Unathletic, man. Heavy body, below the rim player. Maybe he can be like a [Hawks forward] Paul Millsap or [former Rockets forward] Chuck Hayes type, but I'm just O.K. with him. I don't know if he can make it because he's an undersized four. I don't know what one thing he does that makes you put him in a game. Very offensive-minded, struggles defensively, struggles to change directions because he plays so upright. I see him as a D-League player."
Marquese Chriss, 6'10" freshman forward, Washington: "I saw this coming at the Pac–12 tournament. You're talking about an above-the-rim athlete, prototypical of the NBA. He's a multidimensional guy. They don't make a lot of 6'10" kids with 40–inch verticals. He didn't always play hard, but he's just a baby. He reminds me of [former LSU forward] Tyrus Thomas. He disappears for long stretches. That's his personality. I don't think he knows he should be a star."
Isaiah Cousins, 6'6" senior guard, Oklahoma: "He might be the one kid everyone is missing on. He was as hard a worker as Buddy Hield was. Nothing is ever gonna bother him. That kid's a stud. I don't know if he's talented enough, but he's tough as s---. He'll take big shots. He's getting a lot of late buzz, and he should. He could go early second round, which for a kid who was at Portsmouth, that's a pretty big jump."
Deyonta Davis, 6'11" freshman forward, Michigan State: "Just a piece of clay to mold. Wish he had been a better rebounder at that size. You don't know what you're getting yet. He could be like [retired NBA All-Star] Rasheed Wallace out there blocking shots with a back-to-the-basket game. The game moves too fast for him right now. I worry about his motor. He can really run. He's not a bad shooter; his offense isn't broken. He's got a high ceiling. I think he's a long way away."
Cheick Diallo, 6'9" freshman forward, Kansas: "My question is, does he know what he is? If he understands he can make millions of dollars being a rebounder and shot blocker, he'll be terrific. If he thinks he needs to be a scorer, he'll hurt himself because he has no offensive game. I hear he's going top 20. Only a fool would take him there. He's an undersized four who can't shoot, and our league is about shooting right now."
Kris Dunn, 6'4" junior guard, Providence: "Love him. Concerned about his shoulder. He didn't go to Chicago and wouldn't submit to a physical. He's had two surgeries, so it's an issue. Special, special athlete. The shooting piece is the obvious weakness, but he can run a team. He'll make some crazy decisions with a tough pass sometimes, but you'd rather rein that in a little bit. He can guard anybody. He could be a star."
Henry Ellenson, 6'11" freshman forward, Marquette: "He's a woeful athlete, but he's a cocky guy. He can play in the low post. Just not real explosive. He shot 28.8% from the college three, but he shot 74.9% from the line, so his stroke's gonna be O.K. I think he's going to be really good. He's an uncommon big because of his ballhandling skills. He's like [retired NBA player] Mehmet Okur, a center who can stretch the floor."
Perry Ellis, 6'8" senior forward, Kansas: "I don't think he's an NBA player. He's just O.K. at everything. Needs a mismatch at the four to break you down. I don't know what position he plays in the NBA. He's not a three, he's not a dominant athlete, doesn't have dominant size. He's a guy you root for because he does all the right things. If he can shoot 40% form the corner three, maybe he ends up making it, but I don't think he'll get drafted. Average rebounder who doesn't dribble."
Kay Felder, 5'10" junior guard, Oakland: "Love that little guy. He's small like Kentucky's Tyler Ulis, but he's sturdier and able to play more physically. He really got handed the keys to the car in Oakland, so maybe it's harder to judge. Tough, competitive, good athlete, but he's just tiny. His body type is pretty thick. Has some medical issues with his knee. Don't know if he makes it because of his height, but he'll go down swinging."
Yogi Ferrell, 6-foot senior guard, Indiana: "I like that he got better, especially as a defender. He thinks he belongs. He's a good shooter, but he's tiny, and he's not a dynamic athlete. Good player but not at our level."
Michael Gbinije, 6'7" senior guard, Syracuse: "He's good, but the guy is 24. He should be better than everybody else. I think he has some value on a good team but no value on a bad team. He's a really good straight-line athlete who can make a three, and he should be able to guard people. He's a good risk as a second round pick. He can fill a stat sheet."
A.J. Hammons, 7-foot senior center, Purdue: "Very good shot blocker, but he's inconsistent. An enigma. He didn't dominate consistently until he was older. Well, you're 24 beating up on 18-year-olds. You better dominate. I'm not a huge fan of his work ethic and some of the stuff that went on at Purdue. I don't think he loves to play. Talented dude, but I don't know if the light will ever go on for him. I'm concerned what will happen once he gets NBA money."
Buddy Hield, 6'5" senior guard, Oklahoma: "I'm a huge Buddy Hield fan because of the importance of the three in today's NBA. The question is whether he can create a shot for himself. He's not a terrific ballhandler in more than two dribbles. The other question is, does he make everyone else around him better? Special person, worker, will represent your team well. I think he's J.J. Redick. Limited athlete and size, limited as a ballhandler and passer. Tad small for his position. I don't know that he has that much upside. He'll be somewhere in the top 10."
Brandon Ingram, 6'9" freshman forward, Duke: "He'll be a multi-year all-star. He's going to be a versatile player. His build concerns you. Everybody compares him to Durant, but Durant was 215 pounds. This guy is 190. Game reminds me a little of Paul Pierce. You don't think he's moving that fast, but he gets to where he wants to go. Obviously he needs to grow into his body. He's a pipe cleaner right now. I like the improvement he made defensively as the year wore on."
Demetrius Jackson, 6'2" junior guard, Notre Dame: "He's tough. Been though a lot in his personal background that he's overcome. He has steeliness to him. Can play pick and roll and get into the paint. I always wondered why he wasn't more aggressive. I'm not sure he has the makeup to really lead your team. I think he could be a third guard. If he's floating around at 20, 21, you're going to get a really good player. He checks a lot of boxes."
Brice Johnson, 6'11" senior forward, North Carolina: "Best rebounder in the draft. Quick off his feet. Best paint finisher in college this year, so I don't see how that guy fails. Didn't block as many shots as you'd think but they needed him to stay on the floor so he couldn't foul. Guys who rebound at that pace, they can do it at the next level. I don't think he always plays hard. I believe he's eventually going to be an NBA three-point shooter because he's got a good stroke. He's got rounded shoulders so he's not going to be able to score in the low post."
Damian Jones, 7-foot junior center, Vanderbilt: "Athletic. Runs like a deer. My question would be, how hungry is he? He was inconsistent. When you saw him play against Florida [on Jan. 26] he was a monster, scoring 20 points and getting 12 rebounds, but there were other games you're like, where is he? Great kid, really smart, humble. Can run and jump with anyone, but he plays rigid. He didn't improve as much as I thought he would. Someone in the 20s is gonna take him. He's a tease. He could be a [Thunder forward] Steven Adams-type, but I just don't think he has the necessary mean streak."
Skal Labissiere, 7-foot freshman forward, Kentucky: "I'm not a fan. I might take him in the late teens because that's where you can take a gamble. I don't think he's tough or physical, and I don't know if he knows how to play. If you watch him work out one-on-nothing, he can blow you away. The problem is when the game starts. He can really shoot. [Cavaliers forward] Channing Frye is going to get him drafted high. You're just seduced by his talent. If there's a team that wants to take a chance on him in the top 10, more power to you."
Jake Layman, 6'9" senior forward, Maryland: "Can he be Chandler Parsons? Maybe he's a notch or two below that. I've always wondered why he didn't have more of an impact on the game. He's not mentally tough, but he can do a lot of things. He can go down the lane and dunk on people, but at times he was just floating. Teams definitely attacked him on the defensive end. They thought he was soft. He played on a team with a bunch of selfish guys, and he was the odd guy out."
Caris LeVert, 6'7" senior forward, Michigan: "If he's not coming off two foot surgeries, he's a lottery pick. Every doctor is different, but the team that takes him is going to have to be comfortable knowing he's probably going to need more rest. But he can make plays with the ball and he's a great kid. He's a good athlete, really improved as a shooter."
Thon Maker, 7'1" center, Australia/Sudan: "Enigma. You're going to have to deal with the people that are around him who have controlled his life the last year so he didn't compete much at all. I've only seen him work out once and seen him practice twice at Hoop Summit and play in the games there. We're not allowed in high school gyms so I couldn't see him more than that. He's not gonna get super strong because he's got a tiny waist. He can handle a bit, he's not a bad shooter. I know his life has been dysfunctional, but I hear he's a terrific kid. I saw him in the New York workout, and he was more impressive than I thought he would be. He could be a great player down the line."
Patrick McCaw, 6'7" sophomore forward, UNLV: "I don't see it with this kid. His team had a terrible year, although I know there was a lot going on there. He's super skinny. Physically, I don't think early on he's going to be able to compete at our level. He's worth taking in the early- or mid-second round because of the upside. Not overly gritty but pretty skilled for a player his size. I'm not convinced he can gain much weight. He's elite on the defensive end as far as being a ball hawk."
Dejounte Murray, 6'5" freshman guard, Washington: "NBA talent without a doubt. Quick, size, handle, loves to play. Really talented. He's another one whose body is scary thin. Needs work on his shooting. His ability to get into the paint is probably unmatched in this draft outside of Dunn. He's wild now. He can throw it to the cheerleaders. He's a little bit of a risk, but you could hit a home run with this guy."
Jamal Murray, 6'5" freshman guard, Kentucky: "Textbook jumper. The question is whether he can play point guard, which he didn't do at Kentucky. He's a big-time scorer, and he has stepped up at every level, including against grown men in the Pan-Am Games. He's not an unbelievable athlete, and he's not a very good defender right now. He's unbelievably confident, borderline arrogant, which is good. I don't think he's 6'5". He does something that our league loves, which is get buckets."
Georges Niang, 6'9" senior forward, Iowa State: "He's a guy that coaches will love. He's undersized and he's a terrible athlete, but he's a basketball player. He has as high a basketball IQ as anybody in this draft. Can really shoot and you can run offense through him on the elbow because he can pass it. I don't know that he'll get drafted. He should play in Europe for 15 years and make obscene money."
Chinanu Onuaku, 6'10" sophomore center, Louisville: "I don't know about him. I'm not a fan. I think he's a high-maintenance player. His body is not great; he's a little heavy. He's not an over-the-top rebounder, not an over-the-top scorer, so I'm not sure what he does to make our league. He's a little shorter than you want a center to be but he has length. His footwork offensively is very poor. You like his ability to protect the rim for his size, but I'm not sure he's big and athletic enough to pull that off at the next level."
Marcus Paige, 6'2" senior guard, North Carolina: "I don't think he has a shot. What does he do? He's a small scoring two/shoot-first point guard. He's very good in transition because the extra space helps him. It's going to be hard for him to make it. I don't know what happened to his shot. He's not super quick."
Gary Payton II, 6'3" senior guard, Oregon State: "He has some value in the way he guards. Really good athlete and good feel for the game. I don't think he always plays hard. He's one that I wonder why he's not better. He's a real blue-collar guy, but I just don't know where you play him. If he lives in the gym, maybe he can become a good three-point shooter, but I don't know, man. That shot is real funky. He's definitely an NBA athlete and he can defend in the league right now."
Marshall Plumlee, 6'11" senior center, Duke: "I don't know that he has a skill other than a big heart. He's not as good as [former Duke center] Brian Zoubek was and Zoubek didn't make it. You can say his brothers are in the league if you want to buy into him, but I don't know what Marshall hangs his hat on.
Jakob Poeltl, 7'1" sophomore center, Utah: "Classic low block center. The league has gone away form that, which is to his advantage. How athletic is he in a quick-twitch league? He's going to be really good. The improvements he made in rebounding and free throw shooting were impressive. He's just scratching the surface. If you watch him guard pick and roll, he can switch against guards. He's grown on me. People always forget you have to wait on bigs. I'm a little more high on him than most people. He doesn't shy away from contact and he runs the floor very well."
Alex Poythress, 6'8" senior forward, Kentucky: "I don't see it. The NBA will eat that kid up. At Kentucky, the star players get featured and stand out, but he never stood out. He flat-lined. Still can't shoot, still can't really dribble. Maybe he improves but I don't see anything in the short-term that he does for our league. I just don't think he has the temperament or the skill set to be an NBA player."
Taurean Prince, 6'8" senior forward, Baylor: "Plays a position that's really hard to find. He's a big, athletic three. He's not a knockdown shooter, but he's good enough. Plays too fast at times and tends to turn it over too much. I see him going at the end of the first round. He's a backup wing for a long time. He has had a tough life growing up so he has some blue collar in him."
Malachi Richardson, 6'6" freshman guard, Syracuse: "Hard one to get a handle on. Big kid, huge hands, inconsistent shooter. I don't think he's a pure shooter yet. If he can tighten up that jump shot he can be a prototypical two/three in the league. My question is, can he make plays with the ball in his hands? Seems like he's striking while the iron is hot because of his last 10 minutes against Virginia in the NCAA tournament. He played in that zone at Syracuse so you don't know if he can defend. He has broad shoulders so he'll fill out. My main concern would be whether he's athletic enough to play against starters eventually."
Domantas Sabonis, 6'10" sophomore forward, Gonzaga: "Highly skilled, fundamentally sound, high basketball IQ. He's going to be really good in screen and rolls. Not the most athletic guy, probably not really an above-the-rim player in an above-the-rim league. Been playing against pros since he was 16. Everything is in that left hand. Hasn't shown yet that he can consistently make a 15-foot jump shot. If he learns that he'll be a borderline starter for a long time. He's an old-school dude. He can really pass. Put him on the floor with four other good players and those guys will love him. He'll be a solid backup. His weakness is his inability to finish inside because of his lack of bounce and length."
Wayne Selden, 6'6" junior guard, Kansas: "He's big and rugged, he's got a good body on him. What does he do? He doesn't get better. He is who he is. I don't think he's going to change much. Probably guards a four man better than he guards a two man. I think he's a second-rounder but he probably makes a team. He's not consistent enough as a shooter. He can't get to where he wants on the floor. He has the body to be a better defender but he's not the guy to really get you stops."
Ben Simmons, 6'10" freshman forward, LSU: "I would take him first. He's a transcendent player because of his size and his ability to play multiple positions. Shooting is a concern, but that kind of size and skill set doesn't come along very often. There were a lot of things going on with his teammates at LSU. There's no denying he has a big sense of self-entitlement. He's got an aloofness to him that is concerning. The LSU thing was just a s--- show. There was too much allowed to happen. You had a film crew following him around all year. Whatever the concerns, he had one of the most successful college seasons we've seen in recent years. You wonder if he ends up like [Knicks forward] Carmelo Anthony, someone who's a great player but not a winning player."
Diamond Stone, 6'10" freshman center, Maryland: "Has as much upside as any big in the draft. A cross between [Lakers forward] Andrew Bynum and [Grizzlies forward] Zach Randolph. Not as good a rebounder as he should have been. He's just not a mature kid yet. He's going to get a lot thrown at him quickly. Does he have the makeup to deal with that? He's an unbelievable back-to-the-basket scorer. He's lazy defensively. Their defense was worse when he was on the floor. I don't think he's tough and he seems spoiled overall. But he's 19 and he can score on anybody 12 feet and in. That's really hard to get. Right now he doesn't have enough of a motor to make up for his lack of size. He could be like a [Pacers forward] Lavoy Allen but he has to develop a 15-foot jump shot."
Tyler Ulis, 5'10" sophomore guard, Kentucky: "If you're that undersized as a point guard, you have to be a powerful athlete, and he's not. He's going to have to have a coaching staff that believes in him. He was defensive player of the year in the league so he has that mentality, but he's 140 pounds, so he's easily moved defensively and easily bumped off his path offensively. Cal trusted him at a high level, which is saying something. I would take him late first round. If he's your third or fourth guard, he's fine, but you have to know you're drafting a backup."
Jarrod Uthoff, 6'10" senior forward, Iowa: "Physically skilled. Needs to get stronger. He's like Gumby with his ability to contort himself around the rim. Such a weird game. Can he rebound just enough to play four? I don't think he can guard threes. NBA guys will eat him up in the post. I just picture him going up against [Wizards forward] Markieff Morris. He's a good shooter but it takes a little time for him to get it off."
Denzel Valentine, 6'6" senior guard, Michigan State: "Stone cold winner. Great leader, high IQ. How good of an athlete is he, and how much better will he get? And then how are his knees? I don't think he has a really high ceiling but he's smart, he can play pick and roll and he can shoot the hell out of the basketball. One-on-one defense is going to be a struggle at times for him. He's an elite passer—not good, elite. I don't think anybody is confident he'd be a great defender, but you like the progress he's made with his jump shot over the years. He's not incredibly quick to get his own shot. I think he'd be a good piece on a winning team, like [Warriors guard] Shaun Livingston."
Fred VanVleet, 5'11" senior guard, Wichita State: "I hear he's been working out great, but I don't see him making the league. What does he do? He couldn't hold Cat Barber's jock, and Cat's probably going to be middle second round. He's so small, not a great athlete, struggled getting places in pick and roll. I think he goes undrafted."
Isaiah Whitehead, 6'5" sophomore guard, Seton Hall: "He's big, he can play two positions. What he did in the Big East tournament was impressive, but I don't know how much he makes other guys better. He's not very efficient. He's not a great shooter, but he's not bad. He's in that 28-to-40 group. Inconsistent effort on the defensive end, but a capable defender."
Troy Williams, 6'7" junior forward, Indiana: "I don't see it. Plays too fast, doesn't know who he is as a player. Not a lot of substance there. Awful decision to come out. Very possible he goes undrafted. Good athlete, but a poor shooter and a very low basketball IQ. He's just out of his mind, he's so wild. He can do highlight-reel stuff, but for every good play he makes, the next three are gonna be ugly. He's not a great shooter, but he thinks he is. He'll have an opportunity to play because of his athleticism and energy, but I don't think he sticks very long.
Kyle Wiltjer, 6'10" senior forward, Gonzaga: "He was really good in Chicago, and he has had really good workouts. I don't know how he can make it because he's one of the worst athletes I've ever seen. He can't guard anything, but the guy can shoot. Everybody thought Dellavedova was slow, too. He could be a good pick-and-pop five if somebody is willing to be creative with him. He's an awful rebounder and awful defender, but he can really shoot. That's going to buy him a couple of chances. He's got Europe written all over him."
Stephen Zimmerman, 7-foot freshman center, UNLV: "Something is missing there, buddy, and I can't put my finger on it. Seemed to me he didn't understand what his game was. He was always in foul trouble. He's not a great shooter so he's not going to be a stretch four, but he's not an over-the-top athlete. Question is why wasn't he better. The shooting piece isn't there now, but that's not unusual for a young big. He hurt his arm when he was young and it never healed properly. That will never change. Because of his arm he can't lift weights, so it's hard for him to get stronger. I'm not convinced how much he loves to play, which is a problem with a lot of big guys."