It’s here. Player cards are here! This will be the first set of 50 draft prospects that I’ll be covering heading into the draft, now only 16 days away. Here, I describe the strengths and weaknesses of each prospect, and wrap it up with each prospect’s potential role on the Nets.
Today, we start with high upside prospects. Of course, the highest upside prospects are in the top half of the lottery, but there are still plenty of high ceiling players going all the way to the second round. Some players’ profiles have only risen since the end of the college and international seasons, like Donte DiVincenzo and Elie Okobo. Lonnie Walker and Robert Williams have solid skillsets and enticing NBA comparisons, but those players aren’t quite NBA-ready. Another prospect, Mitchell Robinson, is a mystery man after not playing competitive basketball at all this past year.
These prospects are presented based on their consensus mock draft position (CMP). It’s honestly the most complicated stat I can make. It’s the average of the mock draft/big board ranking of the four websites (The Ringer, Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report, and NBADraft.net) presented on the draft card. If a player is not ranked on a big board, that score is a 60.
Lonnie Walker IV, Guard, Miami (CMP: 13.75)
Lonnie Walker has the best hair in the draft, with a combo of a Kid ‘n Play flattop and a Trilogy-Era The Weeknd outgrowth on top. Along the perimeter, Walker excels creating his own shot. He uses his speed and shiftiness to get into the lane. Pulling up, he has solid touch and extremely consistent mechanics. Attacking the rim, he’s a blend of herky-jerky and athletic. Walker’s body control is uncanny, changing directions and twisting in air – but finishing smoothly. (Already imagining Ian Eagle going with “Skywalker” with every funky finish.) While his numbers didn’t show it, Walker displayed decent passing ability, always looking to advance the ball. On the defensive end, Walker projects as a bigger combo guard that could guard up to three positions due to his length. He’s not afraid to mix it up against bigger opponents either.
Walker may need to develop his playmaking ability a smidge in order to be a successful combo guard. He can move the ball, but sometimes that movement lacks purpose or misses easy opportunities. Walker plays at his own pace, which could is often detrimental – he sometimes loses purpose in his dribbling, eventually forcing up poor shots and fruitless drives. His ballhandling, while effective, isn’t too advanced, especially for a combo guard. At Miami, Walker had very few eye opening games and was a bit streaky from the perimeter. Defensively, Walker has a pretty slim frame, so bulkier guards could overpower him. His reaction time as a defender is a little slow off-ball, and he doesn’t use his athleticism fully.
Currently projected as a mid-first rounder, Walker could be a target for the Nets if they move up in the draft ... and they did interview him at the Combine. His ability to create is a match for the Nets’ offensive pace. His positional versatility and potential as a ballhandler could fit with the Nets’ many creators. But one underrated aspect of his game is his energy. He plays with aggression and urgency. Walker isn’t afraid to take big shots, a big time second half contributor for many of Miami’s closest games. His explosive shot creating ability will be his calling card as a pro. While his raw numbers weren’t impressive, Walker’s skillset is super intriguing. Out of all the “high upside” players, Walker could potentially have the highest ceiling.
Robert Williams, Big, Texas A&M (CMP: 13.75)
The Texas A&M sophomore could be the best shot blocker in the draft behind Mo Bamba. (Bamba just reached his arms out from Harlem to Queens and gave me a thumbs up.) Williams’ measurements match well with Jarrett Allen’s. Despite not being super tall, his super long arms make up for it. Williams uses those arms to catch lobs and block shots. On the offensive end, Williams sets solid screens and gobbles up offensive rebounds. He thrives from eight feet and in. But his calling card will be his defense. An emphatic shot blocker and fearsome rim protector, Williams uses his quickness to prey on attacking guards. He moves extremely well for a big man, a positive indicator for his role defending the pick and roll. Williams runs the floor extremely well, and could thrive in transition.
Williams checks every box for “shot blocking big man issues.” He’s a straight up basura shooter, with inconsistent mechanics. He shot below 50% from the free throw line. On the offensive end, he can be a little careless, sometimes throwing lazy passes and committing offensive fouls – either illegal screens or over the back fouls. Robinson has a tendency to become over-aggressive on defense, biting on pump fakes and losing track of the ball. He’s a player that will thrive not doing too much, so refining his wild habits could be the best point of action for him.
Jarrett Allen is a pretty good point of comparison for Williams at this stage. Both played out of position in college, and could be more productive as true centers. While it may be redundant for the Nets to have Allen and Williams on their roster, the fluidity of the two (and the development of the jump shot of each) could be solid in tandem. As Kenny Atkinson has said, the 4 and 5 can be pretty much same in the Nets system. A prospect like Williams has proven NBA skills, and should be successful in spaced out systems. But the overcoming of his flaws could be a big factor on his career trajectory. If drafted by the Nets, some would hope he grows more like Jarrett Allen than Sean Williams.
Donte DiVincenzo, Guard, Villanova (CMP: 22.00)
DiVincenzo is confident. He’s risen on draft boards from undrafted to late first round pick due to his recent performances – at the Draft Combine and in the NCAA Tournament. DiVincenzo’s game can be summed up with a lot of clichés. (Racially codified assessments of NBA prospects are very much still a thing.) Filling the role of “white guy that surprises everyone with his athleticism,” DiVincenzo’s athletic measurements proved him to be a great leaper, quick going all directions, and surprisingly strong as well. His “competitive spirit” is swagger. At the NBA Draft Combine Scrimmages, DiVincenzo dove for loose balls and guarded opponents at their chins. At Villanova, DiVincenzo has no trouble rising to the occasion, taking big shots while also doing the dirty work. With an “excellent feel for the game,” the sophomore showed comfort shooting off the dribble and off screens. That clichéd feel exists on the defensive end, where his anticipation fuels solid defense. DiVincenzo also “makes winning plays,” moving the ball decisively with solid vision.
Ok. Enough with the clichés. Because DiVincenzo is a late riser, questions may arise on his true ceiling. Is DiVincenzo coasting on a fantastic final game or is he a legitimate first round prospect? His overall numbers were decent, but a lot of his damage came as a reserve, often playing against second-string undergrads. On the defensive end, DiVincenzo has average functional speed, which could limit him to guarding 2’s and 3’s, preventing him from being a true combo guard. He may not be a lockdown defender, but his competitiveness could help him from the start. Villanova also played in a pristine offensive system under Jay Wright. DiVincenzo’s ability to create for others and play in more player-oriented systems could be another area of interest.
DiVincenzo would fit in the Nets’ current system. His ability to shoot – but also to expand his game based on his shooting – are tenets of Kenny Atkinson’s system. His game lends itself to the skills of a high level role player. With the Nets, he will likely be paired with other ballhandlers, which could maximize both his shooting ability and his ability to attack. And of course, the clichéd “makes winning plays” superlative bodes well for him even if his shot isn’t falling. His game could provide a spark for monotonous schemes if he continues to prove his worth against NBA competition.
Mitchell Robinson, Big, Chalmette High School (CMP: 24.00)
Robinson is the first of our domestic mystery prospects. He fits the mold of an athletic center prospect, with solid athleticism and quickness for his position. While he may have a skinny frame now, Robinson looks like he can add 15 pounds of mass without losing a step or ounce of athleticism. It’s a little difficult to predict Robinson’s skill level because he hasn’t played competitive basketball in a year. He showed upside in high school, but that could just be due to physical dominance rather than actual skill. In workout videos, Robinson has been seen working on his jumper and on his ballhandling, but those skills may be irrelevant early in his career. For now, his rim protection potential could be the most marketable asset for him.
The big questions on Robinson’s game rest on his development and feel. Not playing basketball for a year – by choice – could be a major hindrance. He hasn’t played against the physicality of even Division I competition. His athleticism is appealing, but if he falls into the trap of lacking focus or having little discipline, he may not realize his potential. Robinson will likely be a raw prospect from the get go.
As a late first round pick, Robinson has lottery upside, but little recent credentials. He reportedly has a promise from the Lakers at pick 25, but promises can be broken. (Don’t cry, Charles, be strong.) Robinso skipped the draft combine, so it seems like the Lakers and possibly other teams have ensured his spot in the first round. But if he falls to the Nets, he would be a project big man that could take time to learn the game and grow into his body. The Nets have time.
Elie Okobo (CMP: 26.25)
Okobo plays like he’s in the NBA already. In the French LNB Pro A league, the Bordeaux native has drawn comparisons to D’Angelo Russell on the Lakers’ SB Nation site, Silver Screen and Roll. Okobo plays with slick staccato in his step (alliteration fam) to get to the rim or pull up from the perimeter. He has a pretty looking jumper with a quick release and no shame in draining a jumper in an opponent’s face. Okobo has a pretty shifty in-between game, using floaters on occasion and an understanding of angles at the rim. As a passer, Okobo dazzles at times, with really good potential as a drive and kick guard. In the pick and roll, he shows solid vision and can weave passes into tight spaces. On the defensive end, he’s solid but unspectacular, with a little bit of an athletic edge against his opponents.
His weakness lies with his explosion. A smooth scorer rather an explosive one, Okobo may struggle against better athletes and dynamic rim protectors. Even with his pro-style dribble moves, he could still struggle beating opposing guards. That could lend him to being a secondary ballhandler rather than one that sets up his teammates consistently. While his passing may be spectacular at times, he can tend to play a little loose, especially when in a crowd or tossing a pass in traffic. On the offensive end, he has a tendency to be too ball dominant, forcing the issue at times. His size and wingspan are about average for a point guard, so that may hinder him to strictly a bench role.
Okobo is a high upside prospect due to his on-ball ability and his fearlessness as a scorer. He’s riding a 44-point performance in the LNB playoffs, which definitely improved his draft stock. As a Net, Okobo could be a sparkplug off of the bench, the type of player that could dazzle at times with his scoring. If his defense improves, he has the chance to become a long-term starter. Okobo has tremendous upside as a scorer, and could thrive in the NBA. He’s the type of player that could rise to the early 20’s due to his fit on many perimeter-oriented franchises.
Be sure to follow me on twitter, @ignisyon for previews of profiles to come!
Next: High Upside, Part 2