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A Quick Glance at the 2016 Draft Class

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A way too early look ahead to June 2016

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

It's July. Summer League is over, free agency has come and gone, and SportsCenter consists of clip after clip of baseball. In other words, the NBA has gone into its only quiet stretch of the year, and intrigue is hard to come by.

So let's take a way too early look at the 2016 draft.

Turns out, this draft is important for the 76ers. You may not have heard, but Sam Hinkie has spent the last few years eschewing contributing NBA players in favor of amassing a slew of future draft picks. (I know, I was shocked to learn that, too.) And 4 of those picks may wind up in the first round next June. To reiterate, the Sixers own:

1. The rights to a pick swap with the Kings, depending on who has a higher pick
2. The rights to the Lakers' Top 3 protected first
3. The rights to the Heat's Top 10 protected first
4. The rights to the Thunder's lottery protected first
5. Their own first round pick

So you could say the quality of the 2016 Draft matters quite a bit to this Philadelphia rebuild.

Let's check in on what people are saying about the 2016 Draft! This should be fun!

Jonathan Givony, President, DraftExpress:

I think it's really weak, honestly. [The 2015 players who deferred a draft year] will help quite a bit because right now it's a really, really weak draft.

Well, then. That's probably not good. But it's probably just one man's opinion. Let's check in with the Worldwide Leader instead.

Chad Ford, ESPN:

Ben Simmons is the lone star in a weak class.

Oh, boy. This seems a little scary.

Consensus seems to be that 2016 is, indeed, a weak draft class. That's slightly alarming when the Sixers have so much invested in this particular class. Before we panic, however, let's take a quick little stroll down memory lane.

In July 2014, 11 months prior to the 2015 draft, DraftExpress's rankings placed Cliff Alexander 2nd, Montrezl Harrell 10th, and Chris Walker 11th. Alexander and Walker wound up undrafted after declaring, while Harrell dropped out of the first round to 32nd. These weren't isolated occurrences, either. Marc Garcia and Ilimane Diop were ranked 15th and 17th, respectively, and both players wound up withdrawing their names from the draft altogether, as they were overwhelmingly unlikely to be selected in the first round. On the opposite end of the spectrum, D'Angelo Russell, who wound up being selected 2nd overall by the Los Angeles Lakers, was not even ranked in the Top 60.

All of this is to say that we just don't have very much information about a draft class a year in advance. Some players don't develop as expected. Some players display considerably stronger discrete skills than the hectic environment of AAU basketball allowed them to display. Some players may have simply been overrated due to the difficulty of evaluating high school talent.

Looking back at the last four drafts, I managed to put together some relevant information regarding draft status 11 months prior to the actual draft. Four drafts are not a significant sample, but the statistics are notable enough that we can still gain some insight from them.

  • In the last 4 drafts, 63 out of 120 players (52%) selected in the first round had not been mocked there the previous July
  • 29 out of 56 lottery picks (52%) rose 5 spots or more over the course of the year
  • 18 out of 56 lottery picks (32%) were not listed in the July DX mock
Those are enormous numbers! More than half of the players selected in the first round were not predicted to be selected there. That means that approximately 15 players who are not currently expected to first round selections will play well enough to be selected there. Additionally, 4 or 5 players that are not expected to be lottery picks, will play themselves into that conversation as well!

Note that this doesn't actually tell us about the quality of these players once they reach the NBA, it merely points to the volatility of the draft ranking process.

This tells us that we really can't put too much stock into declarative statements about the quality of next year's draft, as it is impossible to know who will be in the draft to this point. All that we truly know is that a large number of players will rise into the draft conversation.

Again, by doing a bit of research into the last 4 draft classes, it seems as though the majority of the "risers" aren't horribly obscure players (although a few are), but are relatively known entities who merely outperform expectations. They largely possess NBA-quality physical tools and ranked highly in RSCI during their final year of high school. Embiid, a riser in 2014, was 6th in RSCI, while Russell, a riser this year, was 13th in his year. This generally held true regardless of class year.

Given these constraints, there are a number of players who might prove to be "risers" in the 2016 Draft class. For freshman big men, Ivan Rabb, Stephen Zimmerman, and Thomas Bryant may all impress on their way to a lottery placement. Dwayne Bacon, PJ Dozier, and Justin Simon may be some backcourt risers in the incoming freshmen class as well.

For second year players, Justin Jackson, Theo Pinson, Devin Robinson, Daniel Hamilton, and Malik Pope may all show improved skillsets from last year, and that could propel them up towards the lottery or first round.

It very well may be the case that 2016 is a weak draft class for the NBA. But history shows that we can't really determine much based on our minimal knowledge 11 months before a draft occurs. I'm going to wait until we've seen these players a bit more in collegiate action before believing the narrative that 2016 is a poor class.