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Best Creators in the NBA Draft: Final Rankings

Yes, this is the last one

Let’s briefly recap this series for those who haven’t been following along the last two weeks. I first took a look at Cassius Winston, Tre Jones and Jahmi’us Ramsey, then followed that up with a deep dive into Devon Dotson, Grant Riller and Ayo Dosunmu, and finished it up with a piece on the Pac-12 trio of Payton Pritchard, Tyrell Terry and Nico Mannion. Now, to wrap everything up, I’m giving you my final ranking of all nine prospects that were examined.

Let’s get things started in here!

(All stats for this article via College Basketball Reference)

9. Jahmi’us Ramsey, Texas Tech

NCAA Basketball: Texas Tech at Baylor Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

In terms of pure physical ability, Ramsey is the best of this bunch. He’s taller than everyone save for Dosunmu, but possesses such a big edge in quickness of foot over the Illinois guard that it makes Dosunmu look like his feet are stuck in quicksand by comparison. On top of that, Ramsey’s wide shoulders give him a great frame, and he already packs on a solid 195 pounds into his 6-foot-4 body.

But if you’ve been following my draft closely, you’d know I’m not one to be sold on physical appearance alone. Heck, why else would I drop Anthony Edwards all the way down to sixth in my Big Board?

The only thing I can assuredly say Ramsey did well in his lone year as a Red Raider was shooting spot-up 3s, connecting on 42.6 percent of his attempts from behind the arc in total. Even in that aspect, I don’t totally buy him as a knockdown guy in the NBA, as he only shot 64.1 percent on his free throws, and 37.9 percent on his two-point jumpers.

He’s eerily similar to Ben McLemore, who at Kansas was listed at 6-foot-5, 195 pounds, shot 42 percent from 3, and averaged just about one more point per game than Ramsey. McLemore was praised pre-draft for his raw athleticism and leaping ability, but wasn’t able to put those gifts into good, functional use during meaningful games, which is how I felt watching Ramsey at Tech. I don’t think Ramsey will be a bust, but I don’t see him ever becoming anything more than a so-so wing that can stand in the corner and be the eighth guy on a good team.

8. Nico Mannion, Arizona

NCAA Basketball: Washington State at Arizona Jacob Snow-USA TODAY Sports

I swear, I’m not just trying to be contrarian for the sake of clicks in ranking the highest consensus prospects in the lowest spots of my list. I just don’t like Nico Mannion’s game. He’s likely nothing more than a backup point guard, who can come in and make your team better by constantly getting the ball to the right people in the right situations, but just won’t be able to get you a bucket when going up against physically imposing defenders.

For perspective, here’s the entire list of point guards who shot under 40 percent from the field in their freshman season and went off to have legitimate success in the NBA.

Allen Iverson. Raymond Felton. That’s it. We’re done, and even then, that requires an incredibly positive outlook on the career accomplishments of Felton.

Mannion shot 39.2 percent at Arizona, nestled right behind Brandon Reed and just ahead of Julius Brown in our list. The only inefficient guard to ever be a home run was one of the greatest athletic freaks of all-time in Iverson, and Felton at least had immense strength for a guy his size. Mannion has neither, which makes me worry about him going forward.

7. Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Dosunmu was a guy I wavered back and forth on a lot. You had to watch him play to realize just how much he meant to that Illinois team, and he’ll have experience being the go-to scorer as he comes into the league.

That said, his lack of quick-twitch elusiveness and clunky shot mechanics make it hard for me to believe he’ll be able to get off quality shots in closely contested situations.

He compares offensively to Alec Burks, Marcus Smart and Tony Wroten, as all four of them are either 6-foot-5 or 6-foot-6 and shoot under 30 percent from 3 and below 55 eFG%. In each of their respective careers, those players have had their moments, nights where they continually bury 17-footers over undersized opponents and demoralize teams with their ability to get off and make tough shots. But Burks, Smart and Wroten are also guys that you wouldn’t want taking the biggest shot of the game for a good team. That right should be reserved for elite shooters or athletes that intimidate with their speed and movements. Dosunmu isn’t either.

6. Tre Jones, Duke

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Going by anecdotal evidence and basic game-watching throughout the season, Jones would rate much higher on this list. He’s considered a great winner, competitor, and leader by everyone who has come in contact with him. Plus, Jones delivered several times on the brightest stages of college basketball, serving as the central figure in the Blue Devils offense.

However, I just can’t see Jones’ “get in the paint, put my butt into the defender and turn around for a fadeaway” game working against stronger guards at the next level, not to mention superior help defense from NBA big men. Just looking at his seasonal 3-point percentages, it seems as though Jones made improvements as a shooter. However, when you remove his 14-for-30 finish during the last eight games of his sophomore year, Jones had only shot 28.7 percent from long range in his two years at Duke.

It feels lazy to compare siblings to each other, but it’s hard not to see the similarities between Tre and his brother Tyus. They’re both likable players that do more good than harm, but they’re both better off as ancillary pieces, rather than key contributors that you can give the ball to when your offense is faltering. Really, the only major difference is that Tyus is a more accurate shooter, with a 37.9 percent mark from 3 in both his one collegiate season and his five years as a professional.

Tre is a fine player, and is skilled enough to generate some shots the Sixers want, but he doesn’t possess the precise shooting necessary to be an efficient self-creator.

5. Grant Riller, College of Charleston

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Auburn vs Charleston Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Riller is a really tough evaluation, even outside the context of this series. He has some of the best individual highlights of any guard in the class, whether it be a spin to the inside as he drives hard with his off-hand, or a Ja Morant-esque in-and-out to leave the defender grasping at air. His speed isn’t top tier, but it’s just one notch below, and that combined with his mastery of on-ball moves helps him find openings against bigger athletes with long reach.

However, there isn’t great precedent for a nearly 24 year-old guard whose primary skill isn’t his long-range shooting translating well to the NBA. Riller shot 36.2 percent from 3 and 49.9 percent from the field overall, and the list of senior guards to have sub-40 and sub-50 shooting numbers in those categories is a harrowing one. It’s compiled of mid-major studs that had some moments as college phenoms, but almost never played a meaningful role for a professional team. The few stories that could be considered successes are Kendrick Nunn, who has fallen back down to earth after his red hot start, and Eddie House, who became a decent spot-up shooter, but not a shot creator. Not exactly ideal.

I’m afraid drafting Riller would yield similar results to the Trey Burke experiment. He’s a fun player that will have moments where he puts defenders on their heels and converts on impressive shots, but he doesn’t provide the extraordinary ability to bail out a stagnant offense with a top of the key isolation or simple ball screen.

4. Payton Pritchard, Oregon

NCAA Basketball: Utah at Oregon Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

I originally had Pritchard much higher on this list. I even considered putting him all the way at number one. His shooting form is smooth and gives him the deepest range of any player in the group. Like Jones, he was the focal point of Oregon’s offense and given massive off the dribble responsibilities, evidenced by a 28.2 usage percentage. And where Jones was slow and gregarious in his method, Pritchard had more pep in his step, using a good lateral burst to keep defenders on their heels and create space for himself.

But something just kept nagging at me. He’s a fourth-year guard that isn’t a plus vertical athlete, yet relies on tough step-backs and isolation 3s, and that doesn’t scream go-to playoff guy. On top of that, I didn’t find a ton of pull-up jumpers in his game film. His form is weirdly more conducive to backward momentum than forward momentum, which will make it hard for him to use ball-screens and burn big men in drop coverage at the next level.

Pritchard is one of only 106 college seniors in the last decade to shoot over 40 percent from 3 and have a usage rate over 27 percent. The only two legit success stories on that list are CJ McCollum (who’s a much more springy athlete than Pritchard and an other-worldly pull-up shooter) and Buddy Hield (who is better as an off-the-catch shooter and stands at 6-foot-4). The two guys that Pritchard is more likely to mirror on offense from that list are Shabazz Napier and Josh Hart. Both good players in their own right, but nothing to write home about, and still better served as backup role players than dynamic creators.

3. Devon Dotson, Kansas

NCAA Basketball: Texas Christian at Kansas William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

Dotson combines a deep ball-handling repertoire, intuitive on-court instincts and a lightning quick first step to get anywhere he wants on the court at all times. The Sixers’ offense drags far too often, which makes Dotson useful as someone capable of injecting life into their slow, plodding style.

The obvious concern is Dotson’s poor shooting, posting a 30.9 percent mark this past year from 3 and a wretched 24.3 percent on two-point jumpers, per Hoop-Math. Yet, in contrast to Pritchard, I like the way he gathers into pull-ups and quickly elevates off the ground. He shot 36.3 percent on 3s his freshman season at Kansas and 83 percent from the foul line this past year, so I think he could definitely develop into a solid outside threat.

If he was a more proven shooter, I have no doubt in my mind that I’d slide him all the way to the top of this list. The Draft Comparison Tool created by @youngwizzyDFS on Twitter comps Dotson to Devin Harris, which I can definitely see, as they both possess intimidating speed even with the ball in their hands. His floor is a little lower than one would like due to the iffy shooting, but I’m confident that a guy like him, who shows such great on-court awareness in every aspect of the game, will work to get that shot straight.

2. Cassius Winston, Michigan State

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

On the surface, there’s virtually no difference between Winston and the previously mentioned Pritchard. They’re both diminutive in size and length, older than their peers, and rely on their shooting prowess to put pressure on the defense. Winston even falls into that same category of senior guards to shoot over 40 percent from 3 and finish with plus-27 percent usage.

But as I hinted at earlier, Winston was a menace when it came to punishing teams in the pick and roll, pulling up from just about anywhere when given space. He shot slightly better from 3 at 43.2 percent, and a decent chunk better on two-point jumpers, converting 41.3 percent of those, while Pritchard clocked in at 37.1 percent.

The distinction at first feels too trivial for it to truly make a difference, but it’s justified when taken in context with the 76ers. Teams avoided chasing the Sixers’ perimeter players over ball-screens like Dwight Schrute avoids the internet fad, to the point that it just becomes frustrating. Winston immediately eliminates that option for opponents. That’s worth a lot.

1. Tyrell Terry, Stanford

NCAA Basketball: Stanford at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

To use a Bill Simmons-ism, Terry brings a lot of stuff to the table without taking much off. Teams can’t back off of him due to his reputation as a shooter (40.8 percent from 3 this year), and staying attached is risky too, as he’s a quick athlete that stays low to the ground and changes direction with ease. Guys who are as small as 6-foot-2 and 160 pounds don’t shoot 60.4 percent at the rim on high volume if not for some high-level ball skills and sound knowledge of when to attack space and gaps.

The list of freshmen in the past decade to shoot over 40 percent from 3 while making over two per game contains names such as Jamal Murray, D’Angelo Russell, and even, Markelle Fultz. Y’know, before .... “it” happened. But the most important name from that list is CJ McCollum, who’s similar to Terry in movement, physical build, and style of play. McCollum was a bit more explosive in his movements and more developed as a ball handler by the end of his career at Lehigh, but Terry is no slouch in either of those categories, and is capable of scoring out of the pick and roll when opponents surrender good looks to him.

Terry isn’t as good at shredding drop pick-and-roll coverage as Winston. Nor is he as good as Pritchard and Riller at isolating into makable step-backs. He’s a quick player, but still trails Dotson in that category. So why is he first? It’s because he is either the second- or third-best in all three of those facets for the players under consideration. Teams won’t want to drop their big men against him, he does know how to use his speed as a weapon, and unlike the older Winston, I believe he has the ability to develop that isolation, step-back capability.

So there you have it — Terry is our winner. Of course, all this painstaking research will probably go to waste once Elton Brand selects a 6-foot-11 non-shooter with the 22nd pick, then trades all four second-round picks for five second-round picks plus cash considerations in 2021. Such is life.

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