[Previously: 5 names for #22]
In an NBA climate that is quickly gravitating towards athletes that can do a little bit of everything well as opposed to the specialists of yesteryear, De’Anthony Melton stands out as a player that fits the former genre perfectly. Melton averaged a combined 4.3 blocks/steals per 40 minutes in college to go along with 5.1 assists and a whopping 7.0 rebounds under the same parameters. He’s a maximum-effort two-way player that plays with an excellent change-of-pace ability with the ball in his hands, which will make him a great asset in an up-tempo system. He doesn’t quite have the size you want out of an NBA combo guard (6’3” with a 6’8” wingspan), but the skillset he already has at a fresh 20 years old is certainly one that teams will get use out of sooner rather than later.
The only holes in Melton’s game at this point are his perimeter shooting and scoring instincts. Melton has a good individual offensive game from inside the arc, but he doesn’t figure to ever become anything more than a below average 3-PT shooter in the NBA. He made just 28.4% of his attempts from deep in college (on only 3.0 attempts per 40 minutes) and just 70.6% of his attempts from the freethrow line, neither of which inspire confidence in him as a consistent threat from deep. Deespite this, Melton is still an effective offensive player despite this because of his ability to finish strong at the rim and his eagerness to make the correct basketball play with or without the ball in his hands. I doubt he’ll ever become an offense unto himself in the NBA, but guys that play active defense like he does that can still run an offense with comfort will always have their value on a professional squad.
That description is unfortunately one that lines up quite well with current Bulls point guard Kris Dunn, so why would Melton make sense for the Bulls? Well, assuming the Bulls take a wing or a big at 7th overall and that the front office doesn’t want to pay Nwaba next month, the Bulls are going to need energy guys off the bench that can also make plays. Melton at 22nd overall would give the Bulls another playmaking option for the scorers on the Bulls to play off of, and he would also ensure that the Bulls have a constant defensive presence at the point even when Kris Dunn is out of the game.
To me, De’Anthony Melton is a dead ringer for Marcus Smart, and a comparison of their college freshman stats per 40 minutes reflects that almost perfectly. Smart comes out looking like a more prolific scorer, but also had a much higher usage rate, so their similar assist totals speak to Melton making up for his lack of individual offense with a better knack for facilitating. An even team-friendlier version of Marcus Smart is someone I would welcome to Chicago with open arms.
Vanderbilt might be the biggest boom/bust prospect outside of the lottery in this year’s draft. He’s a 6’9” physical power forward with great length (7’1” wingspan, 8’10” standing reach), excellent leaping ability off of two feet, and a surprisingly good handle for his size. However, what makes him stand out so much to me is the sheer instinct he has for cleaning the glass coupled with his absolute fearlessness towards guarding any position.
The excitement around Vanderbilt’s ravenous rebounding comes from a small 14 game sample size, but it’s totally warranted when examined in a historical context. Dean on Draft brought to my attention just how exemplary Vanderbilt’s ability to hit the boards is when he showcased his rebounding and assist rates versus those of Kentucky’s previous big men currently wreaking havoc across the NBA:
As for his defense, you really have to watch Vanderbilt on film to appreciate everything he can do. He will guard absolutely anybody without hesitation, and his ability to defend faster players than him on the perimeter despite his lack of elite quickness is really something to behold. He also has awesome range on his closeouts and makes really intelligent choices on both switches and recoveries. The fact that he’s able to make such improvisational defensive decisions with ease at a young age is extremely encouraging when it comes to determining how quickly he’ll be able to contribute to an NBA team.
So with all that praise, how is Vanderbilt a late first round/early second round projection at this stage?
His injury history is easily the biggest concern. Vanderbilt injured his left foot twice in high school, then again prior to the start of his freshman year at Kentucky, and then followed those up by spraining his left ankle and missing the SEC and NCAA tournaments. As I alluded to in my profile on Michael Porter Jr., the two recurring types of injuries to big men that should give teams pause revolve around backs and feet. The unfortunate pattern of bad health is almost certainly the leading factor in what has caused Vanderbilt’s draft stock to tumble over the last year, and it’s hard to fault any team that wants to avoid him as a result.
Other than the injuries, Vanderbilt appears to have no future as a shooter. He attempted just one three over his college career, shoots lefty with no ability to finish with his off hand, and clocked in an ugly 63% freethrow conversion rate at Kentucky. It’s somewhat remarkable and definitely disappointing that a player with Vanderbilt’s kind of offensive creation ability for his size has zero shooting touch whatsoever.
But if—and that’s a mammoth of an IF—Vanderbilt stays healthy, I just don’t see how he doesn’t become an elite NBA garbage-man with exceptional defensive utility from almost every angle. Forget how he would fit with the Bulls; that’s the kind of player that fits in effortlessly on any winning squad, though ideally I would hope the front office goes with a safer option at 7th overall if opting for a risk at 22. John Calipari himself compared Jarred Vanderbilt to Dennis Rodman, and though I’m not sure I’d go that far, I certainly think he can become a Tristan Thompson-level presence on the court sooner rather than later.
Does Donte “The Professor” DiVincenzo get first round draft hype if not for his legendary title game performance against Michigan? It’s hard to say, but it doesn’t matter anymore, because Villanova’s sixth man sensation is now almost guaranteed for selection in the range of where the Bulls are picking. DiVincenzo is another one of those “does-a-little-bit-of-everything” combo guards, though he doesn’t quite have the motor or playmaking excellence that De’Anthony Melton possesses. That being said, DiVincenzo is bit better of an athlete, a far more legitimate threat from the perimeter (40%+ from 3-PT range on 7.2 attempts per 40 min.), and plays just as fearlessly on defense. He is a very complete player with stellar character reviews from his teammates at Villanova, and he figures to be a well-liked member of whatever squad he ends up on given his willingness to accept lesser roles for the betterment of his teammates.
Really, the only downside with DiVincenzo is his ceiling. What he did for his team over the course of his career at Villanova is admirable, but it also took away a lot of pressure and game-planning attention from opponents, so it’s hard to envision him transitioning into a starter role as an NBA player early on. Of course, that’s a speculative—albeit logical—assumption to make about a player that hasn’t necessarily had the opportunity to succeed in an expanded role—and he clearly isn’t afraid of performing on the big stage—so maybe there’s more hope to be had here than I’m letting on.
Either way, what the Bulls want(ed) Denzel Valentine to be, I think Donte DiVincenzo can actually achieve. He’s an exponentially better athlete and defender right now than Valentine will ever become, and he still brings the perimeter playmaking and shooting that the Bulls crave from Valentine. DiVincenzo would adapt to role player duties quickly with a built-in understanding of what the team requires of him as a reserve, and maybe with some consistent minutes and development in the coming years he can become a fringe NBA starter. Hopefully, the Bulls swing for the fences at 7th overall if opting for a safer choice in DiVincenzo at 22.
Luka Doncic is getting the lion’s share of international prospect attention this year (and rightfully so), but a quick peak at the prospects slotted further back in the first round yields a player with an alarming amount of individual scoring ability for his age. Dzanan Musa is a 6’9” scoring forward that turned 19 years old last month and has played professionally in Europe since the age of 15. He’s a remarkably complete offensive player for his age, and he plays basketball with an extremely high degree of passion and competitive nature. Per Sports Illustrated: Musa shot 44% out of pick-and-roll sets, 43.5% as a spot-up shooter, 40% on isolation possessions, and nearly 62% in transition for a cumulative total of 47% from the field overall. Musa also shot 36.4% from 3-PT range on over six attempts per 36 minutes in his most recent 16 game EuroCup campaign, which was a substantial improvement from his previous two seasons and speaks to him getting more comfortable scoring from long distance.
On the downside, he’s a pretty average athlete for a prospective NBA forward, and his lacking length (6’8” wingspan) packaged with a slight hump in his back doesn’t inspire optimism for his defensive future. On top of that, he seems more interested in developing his game further as a scorer rather than rounding out his current defensive shortcomings based on his personality and recent interviews. Scouts that have watched him play for a few years have also noted that his emotions can work as a double-edged sword for his on-court play. He will have to adopt a more mature personality if he’s to successfully thrive on the court and alongside his teammates, especially as a player coming from outside of the United States. He also has two years left on his deal with KK Cedevita in Croatia.
If the Bulls were to select Musa at 22nd overall , I sincerely hope they would allow LaVine to walk this summer, because Musa strikes me as a very similar player to LaVine at this stage and this Bulls team can’t afford two heavy-usage offensive players on the wing. Otherwise, I don’t think Musa fits in well with the Bulls’ future at all, even if the Bulls are desperate for talent at small forward. But if the Bulls allow LaVine to take a payday elsewhere and draft a someone like Wendell Carter Jr. at 7th overall to pair with Lauri Markkanen, I think Musa could fit in nicely as at least a tertiary scoring option for Fred Hoiberg’s offense. If the front office then acquires a lockdown wing defender to replace LaVine and help alleviate Musa’s defensive shortcomings, that’s a starting rotation I can get behind for now.
My personal favorite prospect in this draft has to be Zhaire Smith. Though I sincerely doubt he will be available by the time Chicago is ready to pick again, we see players that have no business falling fall every year. The Bulls’ front office has shown they’re not afraid to take prospects projected in the 10-20 range that fall into the bottom third of the first round (Bobby Portis serves as the most recent example), so here’s to hoping other NBA teams are turned off by the fact that he’s still somewhat of a project.
That being said, Smith carries far more promise and excitement with him than traditional basketball projects at his position. One of the most bizarre paths to the draft in recent memory, Smith frequently had to play center for his high school team due to being their tallest player despite only standing 6’4”, and his unfortunate miscasting landed him on Texas Tech’s roster as merely a three star recruit. A year ago today, the only scouts that had Zhaire Smith on their draft radars were probably moonlighting as telephone psychics.
Then Smith started dunking the absolute hell out of the ball, led a top five NCAA defense in both steals and blocks, and became one of the very best freshman players in college basketball. By now, almost everyone has seen the 360° alley-oop he pulled off during March Madness; but the elevation, ability to finish through contact, and miraculous body-control he possess is clearly evident on all of his other slams as well. Smith’s dramatic athleticism, constant two-way motor, and efficient college production (albeit in a small sample size) all scream that he is one of the highest upside players in this draft outside of the lottery.
But, again, he is a project in many respects, and given his meteoric rise in draft stock over the last year, it’s hard to estimate precisely where his floor and ceiling are. Smith has a high but slow release on his jumper, a limited handle at this stage, and will likely need to play off of his teammates offensively to be productive early on in his career. He figures to be both a solid and versatile defender provided he can build up his strength to guard bigger wings; however, if he can’t at the very least develop an average 3-PT shot from NBA range, Smith is going to leave a lot of people wondering what might have been. Teams that consider themselves contenders can only roster so many David Nwabas.
That leads me into Smith’s fit with the Bulls, because early on I can see him immediately providing almost everything Nwaba does right now with the added potential to one day become a team-friendly version of a Zach LaVine that can play defense. That would be an absolute steal for the Bulls at 22 even if Smith never fills in the gaps in his offensive game other than a consistent perimeter shot (it’s worth noting he shot 45% from 3-PT range in college, but did so on only 40 attempts). Either way, Smith would be a cheaper option than Nwaba going forward with far more upside, and plays a far more team-friendly brand of basketball than LaVine will probably ever achieve. If Smith can develop his handle as previous uber-athlete NBA guards such as Victor Oladipo and Russell Westbrook have, I truly believe he will end up as the Donovan Mitchell of this draft (a mid-round guy that quickly establishes himself as a future star).