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Fifteen of the best value picks in the 2016 NBA Draft

Kalen Deremo Avatar
June 21, 2016


The NBA Draft is all about value. Sure, having top three selections in back-to-back-to-back drafts doesn’t hurt. But as the Philadelphia 76ers have shown recently, intentional tanking doesn’t equal guaranteed success in the NBA. Instead, as displayed by the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs over the years, perpetual success is often dictated by the value extracted from a given pick regardless of where that pick falls in the draft.

So what exactly is the key to finding value in each selection as the draft unfolds? As far as I can tell it’s all about perspective, specifically the perspective of how much stock you put into weaknesses — or supposed weaknesses — versus strengths. When analyzing potential draft picks you should always ask whether the strengths Player A brings to the table outweigh his weaknesses, and if so by how much? And are these supposed weaknesses valid enough to justify Player A being ranked head of or behind Players B,C or D?

Additionally, there are certain traits proven to translate to the NBA better than others. High basketball IQ, character, motor, rebounding and defense have universally positive results when it comes to transitioning to the next level. Remember, the NBA is at it’s core a job, and people who succeed at jobs are often those who own a combination of intelligence, drive and dedication. Talent alone will only get you so far in any job and the NBA is no different.

Keep in mind, this is just my interpretation of value. But I feel strongly about it just as I do the 15 players below who I believe offer some of the best value in the draft based on their current projections in the assortment of mock drafts scattered about the Web. If all goes well on draft night the Denver Nuggets should be walking away with at least one of these guys before the 60th pick is announced late in the evening on June 23.

Picks 1-20:

Jamal Murray | 6-5 | SG | Kentucky

Strengths: Shooting, scoring, IQ, intelligence, character

Murray was one of the best pure scorers in college basketball this past season. He was also incredibly efficient for a freshman in a major conference. His 20 points per game were more than former Kentucky freshman phenoms John Wall, Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Julius Randle, Nerlens Noel, Devin Booker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Brandon Knight and on down the line.

Weaknesses: Size, athleticism

The big knock on Murray is his physical frame. He’s a 6-4 shooting guard with a 6-7 wingspan and according to important people across the Internet that just ins’t good enough.

Verdict: His size isn’t actually all that bad and neither is his athleticism

Sometimes we get wrapped up in trying to perfect people. LeBron James is a great basketball player who can do virtually everything on the floor better than anybody who’s every played the game, and yet according to many he’s too unselfish and doesn’t close out games like Jordan did. Unfortunately this same principle of negativity often applies to prospects in the NBA Draft. Murray may not be a freak athlete but he’s got more than enough athleticism to hold his own at the next level (see dunks above). In addition, his numerous strengths far outweigh his supposed weaknesses and the strengths he does possess translate well to the next level.

I don’t know if it’s me but it just seems like every year we have this conversation about shooters not being athletic enough to cut it in the NBA, then they not only end up cutting it but also doing things like winning MVP trophies, Most Improved Player award and even NBA titles. Though nobody really wants to admit it, the truth is freaky athleticism is actually really hard to come by in the NBA and more often than not you only need requisite athleticism to do some pretty amazing things. The rest of your success is often determined between the ears.

Value: A steal at seven

I’m of the opinion Murray is the third best player in this draft. If he were to fall to the Nuggets at seven I don’t think fans could ask for a more perfect lottery scenario on draft night outside of the teams picking one through six deciding Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram really aren’t that great at playing basketball after all. It’s advisable not to hold your breath for that one though.

Skal Labissiere | 7-0 | C | Kentucky

Strengths: Athleticism, body, work ethic, defense, shooting

Labissiere might be as polarizing a prospect as any in this draft but there are a few things everyone can agree on, namely his athleticism, pure talent, defensive versatility and shooting stroke. It’s rare to find all those attributes in a big so when you do you should probably think twice before writing him off based on a lone season of struggle.

Weaknesses: His entire freshman season

That said, Labissiere was basically terrible as a freshman. He couldn’t stay on the court, was lost half the time when he was on the court and didn’t seem capable of grasping fairly elementary basketball concepts even as the year progressed.

Verdict: Big men are late bloomers

I’m no Labissiere apologist and I question whether he’d be a good fit for the Nuggets and the culture they’re attempting to establish, but I also know how disastrous it can be to judge a big man based on a single 35-game stretch as a 19-year-old freshman. Andre Drummond, who had virtually all the same “red flags” as Labissiere, is the most recent example of this error in judgement. Big men, especially centers, simply do not mature at the same rate as more diminutive guards and forwards and Labissiere is likely no exception. Furthermore, according to ESPN’s Chad Ford there are rumors floating about that Labissiere, who came from a tumultuous upbringing in hurricane-ravaged Haiti, didn’t exactly adapt well to John Calipari’s drill-sergeant communicatory methods which could account for at least some of his struggles at Kentucky.

Value: Worth the gamble at 15

Would I like to see the Nuggets not have to make a decision on Labissiere? Absolutely. But I still think if he were to drop to 15 he’d be well worth the gamble, especially given the Nuggets have three first-round picks to work with as things stand.

Timothe Luwawu | 6-7 | SF | Mega Leks

Strengths: Athleticism, upside, defense

Luwawu may be the most athletic wingman in the draft. He also has a great body and seems to play the game the right way, relegating equal amounts energy to offense and defense. And though he’s no knock-down shooter just yet he’s shown the ability to stroke it from deep when called upon.

Weaknesses: Experience

The only real weakness Luwawu has at this point is experience. He has all the physical and mental tools to succeed at the next level but lacks the necessary knowledge and number of games against high-level competition under his belt.

Verdict: The epitome of value

This article was written for players like Luwawu who’s strengths far outweigh their weaknesses and who’s weaknesses are of the most fixable variety imaginable. Luwawu simply needs time. That’s it. He needs to play, to play more, and then to play even more, and after he plays a lot of basketball he’s likely gonna be a damn good ball player. At least, this is my guess. His handle, shot and decision making are what need the most work and yet the only way to improve those things is through practice, which Luwawu will get plenty of in the NBA.

Value: A solid pick at seven, a steal at 15

As I mentioned in my draft profile of Luwawu, the chance he slips to 15 doesn’t seem very likely at this point. If the Nuggets really want Luwawu they’ll likely have to take him at seven or perhaps trade down or up depending on which pick they use as a trade chip. Either way Luwawu is one of the best value picks in the draft given his array of impressive tools and his limited drawbacks. Outside of Ingram and Simmons I’m not sure any player slated to drop in the lottery has more upside than Luwawu.

Ivica Zubac | 7-1 | C | Mega Leks

Strengths: Size, age, potential, IQ

Zubac will have two things working heavily in his favor come draft night: (A) He’s really young, and (B) he’s really huge. Having just turned 19, standing 7-1 with a 7-4 wingspan and weighing in at 265 pounds, Zubac is just about as monstrous as they come. Also keep in mind that at such a young age Zubac will only get bigger. Aside from his size Zubac has solid offensive IQ and a nice shooting touch around the rim.

Weaknesses: Raw, lack of knowledge

Similar to Luwawu, Zubac is inexperienced and immature. He doesn’t read the game at a high level and as a result ends up out of position and surrendering easy baskets to his opponents.

Verdict: Another undeveloped big

Zubac is in the same category as Labissiere when it comes to development in that he doesn’t have too much of it at such an early stage of his career, and yet he’s still shown flashes of offensive versatility unrivaled by the handful of true centers in this draft.

Value: 15 or 19

Guys like Zubac don’t just grow on trees. If he’s still available at 19 he’d be a fantastic selection as far as I’m concerned. Having just turned 19 in March, Zubac has everything going in his favor. All he needs is a little tutelage and he could turn into one of the best backup centers in the league down the road.

Dejounte Murray | 6-5 | SG | Washington

Strengths: Scoring, upside

Dejounte Murray is probably one of the most gifted players in this draft. He’s got incredible tools as a scorer and can get buckets any way he wants. He’s also springy and has great size and length for a shooting guard.

Weaknesses: Youth, could be too much of a scorer

Murray has compared himself to Jamal Crawford in the past and it’s easy to see why. He’s a shifty scorer at heart who loves to put defenders on skates while putting points on the board. Yet for as great an attribute as scoring is it’s also only one facet of the game and is often overrated by casual fans. Jamal Crawford is no doubt a fantastic scorer but he’s also on the sixth team of his career and has never done much outside of scoring the rock for mediocre teams.

Verdict: He’s too talented to overlook

Of all his weaknesses I don’t see any that can’t be fixed. He sometimes makes poor decisions — what freshman doesn’t? He sometimes struggles shooting — what freshman doesn’t? He loses focus on defense — what freshman doesn’t? Similar to Luwawu and Zubac, Murray seems to have fallen victim to the classic pitfall of being too young for his own good.

Value: A solid pick at 19

If the Nuggets keep 19 he’d be a good pick. I don’t see him going too much higher and after already taking two players at seven and 15 (presuming they keep their selections) the Nuggets could swing for the fences and take a player with as much star potential as anyone in the mid-first round.

Malik Beasley | 6-5 | SG | Florida

Strengths: Age, defense, IQ, athleticism, shooting

Beasley is what I like to call a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none-but-awesome-nonetheless type of guy. You know the type. He does everything from shoot to defend, score inside to run the break, pass on a dime to fire up his teammates when play is sluggish.

Weaknesses: Not quite sure

He doesn’t have elite length or ball-handling skills for a shooting guard and occasionally makes ill-advised plays on defense — and that’s apparantly going to keep him from being a really good ball player in the NBA, I suppose.

Verdict: Please draft this kid

Beasley is one of my favorite players in the entire draft. I love the way he plays. I love his efficiency for a freshman. I love how he committed to a defensive-minded program for college. And I love how well rounded he is at such an early age. In years past I’ve championed prospects like Kenneth Faried, Gary Harris and Jusuf Nurkic whom the Nuggets obviously ended up selecting, and this year I’m hoping Beasley follows in this tradition and becomes a Nugget on draft night.

Value: Great pick at 15 or 19

Some may think Beasley’s a bit of a reach at 15 but as you might have guessed I’m no member of this club. If the Nuggets took Beasley with the 15th pick I’d have no qualms whatsoever. That said, there’s a good chance he drops to 19 so it might be in the Nuggets’ best interest to take another player from above and then target Beasley with their final selection of the first round.

Best of the Rest:

(These are guys who would likely be a stretch at pick 19 but who could end up being decent value picks in the mid to latter part of the draft.)

Petr Cornelie | 6-11 | PF | Le Mans

Cornelie is an athletic but wiry big who projects as a stretch four at the next level. Like most second-round European prospects he has a lot of work to do before finding himself as a valued member of an NBA rotation, but his stature and skill set are too tantalizing to dismiss. He’s already a fairly respectable and versatile defender but if he can add some muscle (which he will) and improve his defensive focus (which he will) he could end up being one heck of a role player down the line.

DeAndre Bembry | 6-6 | SF | St. Joe’s

If there’s a guy I’d bet on to get drafted in the late first round who will go on to play a huge role for a title contender it’s Bembry. He doesn’t quite have the form or range on his jumper to play the coveted “3-and-D” role (at least not yet) but his size, IQ, defense and court vision comprise a set of attributes that’s difficult to find in a single prospect no matter where they’re projected to be drafted. If Bembry develops a reliable jumper he could end up being one of the biggest steals of the draft.

Patrick McCaw | 6-7 | SG | UNLV

McCaw is a hot name amongst draftniks as a potential sleeper pick, and rightfully so. Like Beasley, and to some extent Dejounte Murray, Luwawu and Bembry, McCaw is the type of player who excels in a variety of different fields and puts up numbers across the board as proof. He’s got excellent size and athleticism for his position, can hit threes at a substantial clip and can play lights-out defense when locked in. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to suggest McCaw may land somewhere in the lottery or late first round but if the Nuggets have their eyes set on taking a wing with one of their first three picks it’s difficult to envision McCaw flying off the board before guys like Luwawu, both Murrays and even Buddy Hield or Furkan Korkmaz.

Rade Zagorac | 6-9 | SF | Mega Leks

If the Nuggets know what’s good for them they might as well just turn Mega Leks into their overseas farm team given so many of their players possess the type of attributes and IQ that make losers like me salivate atop my computer keyboard. A few years back I noted how an unknown, lanky 7-footer named Nikola Jokic possessed an intriguing skill set and would possibly make for a valuable second-round pick. Needless to say that experiment panned out quite well and so I’m back at it again, this time calling for the Nuggets to draft another Mega Leks’ second-rounder in Rade Zagorac, an athletic, defensive-minded wing who plays with verve and has all the tools to become a filthy role player in the NBA. Just watch his highlights on YouTube. That is all I ask.

Chinanu Onuaku | 6-10 | C | Louisville

I have zero problem admitting I have a thing for defensive-minded centers, especially those from Louisville with African-inspired names (see: Gorgui Dieng). What I love about Onuaku (aside from the obvious mentioned above) is that he’s still only 19 and has the body of a chiseled NBA vet. He also has an insane 7-3 wingspan and is about as agile as they come for a guy of his stature. Onuaku will never be much of an offensive threat, but in the modern-day Association you don’t necessarily need the next Wilt Chamberlain to win a title. What you need is interior defense to stifle the dribble-drive offense and keep crafty point guards from finding open teammates on the wings. Onuaku can do just that.

Isaia Cordinier | 6-5 | SG | Denain

I have absolutely no idea why Cordinier isn’t consistently projected as a higher pick than where he’s currently slated to land in most mock drafts across the Interwebs. I truly don’t. This kid is Luwawu Light. Hell, he might even be able to stand toe to toe with his fellow countryman for all I can tell. He’s young, super athletic, defensive minded and an occasional visionary with the ball in his hands. And yet there’s something wrong with him. I don’t know what it is but perhaps you can tell me. Either way I won’t care. This kid is legit and if I were Tim Connelly I’d be doing whatever I could to land an early second rounder to grab him.

Thon Maker | 7-1 | PF | High School

Thon Maker is without question the mystery man of this draft. He declared about as late as possible and left pretty much everyone scratching their heads as to why he chose to depart for the NBA directly out of high school. Maker has a tantalizing skill set for a 7-1 power forward but bountiful questions remain about whether his flashy style of play will translate to the NBA. Maker has a great stroke for a 7-footer, can run the floor and pass with the best of them, but he’s often underwhelmed against top-notch competition and has never garnered the same level of adoration from scouts as he has the Internet. Nevertheless, Maker could be worth a gamble in the second round given how rare his talent level and skills are for a guy his size.

Paul Zipser | 6-8 | SF | Bayern Muenchen

Paul Zipser plays exactly the type of game that portends success at the next level. He’s feisty, energetic, tuned in on defense and willing to score in a variety of ways on offense, including draining threes at a high percentage. Zipser is a bit old at 22 but he more than makes up for it with his athleticism which figures again to translate well at the next level. Zipser likely won’t be much more than a role player but if a role player is what you’re after I don’t know that there’s a better prototype in this draft than the Heidelberg native.

Caris LeVert | 6-7 | SG | Michigan

It’s anyone’s guess as to where Caris LeVert will drop on draft night. He’s got as much talent as most anyone outside the projected top two picks yet questions surrounding his health will likely prevent him from hearing his name called until at least the conclusion of the lottery. LeVert has outstanding size and vision for a guard and could end up playing backup point guard depending on where he lands. He shares many similarities to Shaun Livingston and if his health holds up he could end up being a steal no matter where he’s selected.

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