There's one fundamental rule I try to follow when it comes to writing about NBA Draft prospects in December: It's early.
Remember those two words. It's early. I have it written on a post-it note on my laptop. I recorded myself saying it and made it my text alert. I even had it tattooed onto the back of my hand.
It's important to remember that, both for the good you see out of prospects, and the bad. It's early because they can still improve, but it's also early because the sample size is very small.
Many of the top draft prospects in the United States are freshmen. This month was their first exposure to college basketball. Some of their games were against better competition, but for the top programs, a lot of them were squash matches against teams that are cashing a check. Sure, Duke played elite programs like Wisconsin, Michigan State, and of course, Temple, but they also played Furman, Presbyterian, and Fairfield, three teams who have combined for as many NCAA tournament appearances in the 21st century as your YMCA pick-up team.
That said, there's a lot to get excited about, and a lot to be concerned about, so let's hit some of the key points.
Kansas small forward Kelly Oubre came into this season with a lot of buzz, especially among draft types who look at the Sixers roster and think that Hollis Thompson may not be a long-term answer on the wing. Crazy, I know.
Here, I called Oubre "the top wing prospect on my board" coming into the season. I looked forward to seeing him play at the top level. I completely forgot that Kansas coach Bill Self exists to torment NBA scouts.
Bill Self and I have a love-hate relationship, in that he loves to ruin my viewing experience, and I hate him for it. This isn't the first time we've run into this problem. His system didn't exactly do WigginsWatch's patron saint Andrew Wiggins any favors last season.
So far this season, Oubre is averaging EIGHT MINUTES PER GAME. To put this into perspective, adjusted for the difference between the NBA and college basketball, he plays roughly as much as JaKarr Sampson.
Fellow freshman Cliff Alexander is doing a little better, averaging 18 minutes per game, and putting up some decent numbers, including a nice 12 point, 10 rebound showing against Florida last Friday night.
I have legitimately no idea what to make of Oubre. I've seen nothing from him so far, and it's hard to find any rhythm, comfort, or improvement playing 8 minutes a night. He's falling on a lot of boards, and that's understandable, but I'm still a believer. It's early. If he's still not getting playing time a month from now, then I'll be more worried.
That said, I'm starting the campaign, right here. #FreeKellyOubre.
Stuck In The Middle With You
I'm not going to spend too much time talking about the centers of this draft here, because we are going to be talking about them so, so much for the next seven months. That said, in the first month, both Jahlil Okafor and Karl Towns have made the "Should the Sixers really draft another big man?" question a legitimate discussion, as expected. Okafor rose to his first real challenge last week against Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky, and while he didn't put up monster numbers, he showcased a variety of NBA skills, including his pure strength in the low post, and a gorgeous fall-away bank shot post move that looked so good, it made about 30 scouts swipe right.
Towns hasn't gotten the playing time I'd like to see due to Kentucky's platoon system, but what's stood out to me has been his excellent rebounding (13.6 per 36 minutes) and ridiculous post defense (5.3 blocks per 36).
The question will remain how they possibly fit with Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid, but I can't hear that question right now because I'm currently distracted by these new, shiny prospects.
Little Trouble In Big China
Last week, reports came out of China that Emmanuel Mudiay's team, the Guangdong Southern Tigers, were considering releasing Mudiay in favor of NBA veteran Will Bynum because Mudiay is nursing an ankle injury, and there could be some disagreement between team and player about when Mudiay is able to return.
From an NBA standpoint, it's not a big deal. Mudiay and his camp are no fools, and they know that the one thing Mudiay can't afford entering the draft is an injury. Mudiay's not going to play in China unless he's 100%, and Guangdong has every right to release him as a result. It's not an injury concern, nor is it a character concern.
Dante Exum proved that sometimes it's better for your stock to sit around and do nothing. If Mudiay is released, I assume he'd take the same route, and go work on his game with a private trainer somewhere. Selfishly, I'd love to see him play in the D-League, but there's no reason for him to do so, since there's not enough respect for the league's competition level for him to do anything but hurt his stock, or worse, himself.
Big Board, Big Luck
A new feature I'm going to do this year with WigginsWatch is a Sixers-specific big board with every incarnation. These are not necessarily the overall best players, but the order I would pick them in if I were Sam Hinkie. So let's get to it.
1. Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke - Came into the season #1, hasn't done anything to change that, and nobody has surpassed him just yet.
2. Emmanuel Mudiay, G, Guangdong - Showed some nice skills in his brief Guangdong stint thus far, but this is more based on American record than anything else.
3. Karl Anthony Towns, C, Kentucky - Did you miss it before when I said he was averaging FIVE BLOCKS PER 36?
4. Justise Winslow, SF, Duke - Start working on your best Justise puns. I think his shooting will regress a little, but he's been promising.
5. Kelly Oubre, SF, Kansas - Like I said, I still believe. I need to see it soon though, or he could plummet.
6. Mario Hezonja, SF, Croatia - Hasn't gotten a ton of playing time overseas, but I still like the skill set, and he can shoot!
7. Stanley Johnson, SF, Arizona - Love his defense, love his athleticism and I love his current production. If he keeps up the production, he could shoot up the board.
8. Kristaps Porzingis, PF, Latvia - I loved Porzingis when he was entered in last year's draft, and he's tough to pass on for upside alone. Potential star, whether it's in Philadelphia, or wherever Hinkie trades him.
9. D'Angelo Russell, SG, Ohio State - Not crazy about his inefficiency, but he can score, and in a lot of different ways. I really want to see how his game evolves throughout the season.
10. Kevon Looney, PF, UCLA - I really like Looney as a prospect, but not for the Sixers. That said, I can't see any situation the Sixers would be in where he would be a viable target.
Mock The Sixers
Another recurring feature is a Sixers based mock draft, based on what their multitude of draft picks are at the time. Just a little something to spur discussion.
1. Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke - Too talented to pass on. Figure out the playing time later.
16 (from Miami). Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, SF, Arizona - Athletic wing who fits the Sixers profile of picking the most athletic guy and teach them how to shoot later.
I'll do 2nd round picks in later editions, but right now, it's impossible to guess who's actually going to declare for the draft, both in terms of leaving college and internationally. We'll cross that bridge when we get to it.
After all, it's early.