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2018 NBA Draft Notebook: Marvin Bagley vs. Jaren Jackson Jr., and the Curious Case of Miles Bridges

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Houston Baptist v Michigan State Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Conference play has only intensified the allure of the 2018 draft class, with many of the lottery-likely players producing big time performances and improving their stats now that they are playing in-conference rivals. Meanwhile, in Sacramento, the Kings have gone from the projected 5th pick (when I wrote a few weeks ago) to juggling around 1st and 2nd... which makes the bigger names ever more important to discuss. As we slowly grind towards those beautiful middle weeks of March, here is another look at some of the bigger storylines of the collegiate season.

Measuring the Fits of the Dominant Bigs

In my last Draft notebook, I highlighted how the most promising bigs in this class all conceivably fit needs for Sacramento. With DeAndre Ayton and Mo Bamba covered, let’s take a look at how the two bigs with suffixes could fit the Kings’ long term planning.

Marvin Bagley III

Marvin Bagley wasn’t supposed to be in this draft class. He would have been in high school this year, but he earned his eligibility and came to college early. And when the basketball gods see fit to give us a Duke/Arizona matchup come March, we’ll be praising them for blessing the season with so many Titans of the paint… because in any other year, the only big we’d be talking about was Marvin Bagley.

There are concerns about how Bagley will transition over to the NBA; he’s a five on offense and a four on defense, with a low-post heavy game (54.9% of his offense is at the rim, and his heaviest play type per Synergy is post-ups [1 PPP, 84th percentile!]) and minimal showing as a rim protection or help defender (as this article from Jonathan Tjarks at the Ringer shows, his 3.3% block rate would be the lowest of lottery bigs in the past decade). Add in less than ideal height for a center in today’s NBA, and it’s fair to wonder about his fit at the next level.

But Bagley is following up fellow Dukie Jayson Tatum for the “overanalyzed too much” award. He’s producing 22 points, 11 rebounds, and a 63% true shooting percentage… on the biggest team in the country this season. He’s playing next to another NBA five in Wendell Carter, and is having to make it work when Duke’s offense (much like it was for Tatum last year) can go through massive boughts of awful. Surely with NBA spacing, a point guard who shoots better than he does, and a coach who actively forces him to focus defensively…

I know athleticism is the easiest thing to hyperbole in the sports world, but Marvin Bagley LOOKS special. You don’t see kids with his explosiveness, and best of all, control over it. He has a jump that looks right out of a broken NBA 2K slider. And the effort—on offense, anyway—is really there. In the right situation, with a coach who will press him much like Brad Stevens pressed Tatum, I think it’s likely that Bagley will have a similar transition.

Is Sacramento that right situation? The floor spacing might get cramped with the roster as currently constructed, but Bagley, De’Aaron Fox, and Bogdan Bogdanovic could be a terror in transition. He wouldn’t (likely) offer much as a rim protector, but he could provide a level of low-post scoring that neither Skal Labissiere or Willie Cauley-Stein are capable or willing to provide... and we all know Dave Joerger would love to have a young, heavy-load post player.

Jaren Jackson Jr.

With the other bigs literally jumping off the screen—Ayton with his sheer combination of size and skill, Bagley with his elite explosiveness, and Bamba with his 7’9” wingspan—it’s easy to forget that a fourth incredibly promising big man is playing at Michigan State. Hell, Jaren Jackson Jr. (JJJ) isn’t even the most hyped player on his own team. In most seasons, though, he’d be a lock for a top 5 pick.

Stat Comparison of 2018 Bigs

Player PPG (Per 40) Usage Rate FGA PG (Total) FG% 3PA PG (Total) 3P% TS% % shots away from the rim
Player PPG (Per 40) Usage Rate FGA PG (Total) FG% 3PA PG (Total) 3P% TS% % shots away from the rim
Jaren Jackson Jr. 11.4 (19.9)  22.9% 6.5 (129) 50.40% 2.8 (56) 44.60% 66% 58.50%
DeAndre Ayton  19.7 (24.7)  26.3%  12.4 (248)  62.9% 1.3 (25) 32% 66.80% 53.30%
Marvin Bagley  21.9 (28.2)  27.5%  13.8 (263) 61.20%  1.8 (35) 34.30% 63.80% 52.70%
Mo Bamba  11.8 (15.6)  20.8%  9.1 (164) 51.80% 1.9 (34) 20.60%  55.2% 45.10%

Comparing Jackson’s numbers, a couple things stand out;

  • Less shots than the rest of the bigs by a decent number.
  • High number of his shots are away from the basket (he’s playing next Nick Ward and drive-loving Miles Bridges, so Tom Izzo uses his ability to spread the floor).
  • He’s made nearly as many threes as the other three bigs combined.
  • And he’s got the second best true shooting percentage, just a tick behind Ayton,

Now, since he’s the third (or even fourth, depending on Joshua Langford) option, those efficiencies could certainly go down if he was given heavier role in an offense. Or they could go up with some extra spacing (Bridges’ green light and Nick Ward’s need-to-feed doesn’t provide the best gravity), more chances in the post, and a greater opportunity to show creation ability. He doesn’t seem likely to develop into a high usage go-to scorer, but at the very worst, he’s going to be a strong pick-and-pop guy who can provide spacing and some back-to-the-basket scoring.

Floor stretching efficiency isn’t what defines Jackson as a player, though; that would be his tenacious, post wrecking defense. He’s a very aware defender, which you don’t see much in freshmen nowaways. He’s got his head on a swivel, and does a great job of staying aware of where his man is AND where the ball is; very rarely does he get lost on defense. Long arms (7’4 wingspan) makes up for less-than-ideal quickness off the bounce, and tenacity makes him one hell of a help defender. He’s averaging 5.5 blocks per 40 minutes (13.4% rate – easily the second-best rate of the bigs behind swat-king Bamba) because of his ability to do this.

One more stat on Jackson; according to Synergy, two of the players in my top 10 are in the top 10 in the NCAA for lowest points per posession allowed by an opponent (minimum 125 defensive possessions); Mikal Bridges is 6th, allowing .567 PPP and 23.8% shooting. Jackson is 8th, with .57 PPP and 23.2% shooting. He isn’t some vague “hey he’s pretty good” defensive prospect; he’s making a major impact on one of the best teams in the country.

Sacramento could certainly use a rim protector and a big with a not-hypothetical floor spacing game. Jackson’s defensive intensity would be a breath of fresh air with both Skal and Cauley-Stein’s inconsistencies in both technique and effort. But while I’m very high on Jackson being a great role player at the next level, he wouldn’t provide the go-to scoring potential that Ayton, Bagley, Michael Porter, or Luka Doncic have. He’s certainly a safer prospect than some of the guys—I’m more confident of his NBA transition than I am of “hot-and-cold” Bamba—but the Kings might have sucked themselves out of Jackson’s draft range.

Has Miles Bridges Improved in his Sophomore Season?

Miles Bridges might have cost himself a few draft slots by returning to Michigan State this year. The lottery level talent in 2018 is seemingly even deeper than 2017’s stellar class, and other multi-positional/multi-level scorers in his tier range—Mikal Bridges, Wendell Carter, Kevin Knox, Troy Brown, and the ghost-of-who-once-was-Robert Williams—will draw attention from the “we’re just a piece away!” lottery crowds.

Now, a mid-lottery slot in this class isn’t an insult; Bridges is a damn solid all around player. He’s a three-level scorer with solid efficiencies (65.4% at the rim, 41.7% on two-point jumpers, and 35.5% on threes, per hoop-math.com); he’s a capable and willing passer (4 assists per 40); and he’s already got NBA strength and athleticism. He’s has great power and determination when he’s given some space to load up.

He’s also a capable, switchable defender who plays with the intensity you’d expect from a Spartan under Tom Izzo. He doesn’t have Jackson’s total defensive awareness, but he’s also not a guy who will let himself get torched. With his bulk, most collegiate players won’t have an advantage on him, and he provides help as an emergency weakside rim protector (when JJJ isn’t on the floor).

But this season isn’t telling us more than we already knew about his NBA potential. Bridges’ game is being refined at Michigan State, not revealed. His numbers jumped off the screen last year, and this year, he’s… around the same.

Miles Bridges’ Career Stats

Year PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% TPG TS% UR%
Year PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% TPG TS% UR%
Fr (16-17) 16.9 8.3 2.1 48.60% 38.90% 2.4 58% 27.30%
Sp (17-18) 16.9 7.2 3 47.10% 35.50% 2.1 57.90% 27.20%

What changes there are in his stats, we can somewhat attribute to his position change. He was primarily a four last year, but with JJJ too good and Nick Ward too big to bench, Bridges has slid down to the three. That means:

  • More perimeter work (5% decrease in percentage of shots at the rim, and 4% increase in three point attempts) at a reduced success.
  • A big climb in shots off-screens (not effective so far).
  • A solid drop in rebounds.
  • More chances to control the ball away from the paint, which creates opportunities for Ward/JJJ (an impressive assist jump – 14.5% rate last year to 18.8% this year).

It’s mostly working for the 17-3 Spartans. Their offense is cruising (top 20 for PPG, 1st in total assists), they’re cleaning the glass (4th for total rebounds), and protecting the rim (1st for total blocks). Bridges and Michigan State are a perfect match between the superstar’s character and the tone of his team; the Spartans are a fully revved motor with crazy horsepower, but limited stopping power when things start falling off.

There are games where that confidence and lack of handling are going to get them in massive turnover troubles; overall, the team is 271st ranked for turnovers per game. In their last three games—wins against Indiana and Rutgers, loss to Michigan—the team averaged 14.3 turnovers per game (mid 200s in the league for seasonal average), with Bridges at 4 a contest.

He’s also had an enough-to-worry-about dip in his shooting efficiencies; on spot-up shots, he’s netting .98 points per possession (PPP) on 40% shooting—down from 1.11 PPP on 45.5% as a freshman. His three-point percentage has also dropped as his attempts have climbed (5.1 to 5.8 attempts per game). He’s a powerful force at the rim thanks to his athleticism, but he can also struggle against NBA size with his limited reach (6’9 wingspan). And when Bridges gets sloppy (four straight turnovers against Indiana to start the 2nd half) it’s easy to worry about how high his offensive ceiling really is. But these drops in efficiencies can also be attributed to his new position; in the NBA, gifted with greater spacing and more changes in the high-post, he could be a fine shooter. The consistency on his shot is there (if a little low, given his reach).

I’m not expecting much of what we see from Bridges to change over the next six months. He’s not showing much new—but he’s continuing to show us a rim-runner, a willing passer with solid vision, and a switchable defensive presence. There are worse places for those abilities to be refined than in the Big 10 and under Izzo’s tutelage. Some mid-lottery team will gamble he’s the next role player star, and that his versatility on both ends will help spawn a wider impact across their roster. But we won’t really glimpse Bridges’ ceiling until he’s asked to create AND effectively defend against NBA forwards.

Sleeper Watch: Chandler Hutchison, Wing, Boise State

In a league hungry for versatile wings, I think Chandler Hutchison is a prime candidate for a Kyle Kuzma “why did he fall so far?!” type career. Hutchison is a great athlete, and is a major threat at the three point line, both as a shooter and in attacking closeouts. He’s averaging 19.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game this season at solid clips (47% FG, 38.2% 3P), and makes his presence felt on the defense end with good size and tenacity. Check out the variety of moves he used in a 44 point outing against San Diego State earlier in the month; with his smooth long strides, crafty handle, and ability to attack the rim, he’s shows some excellent creation ability in both the open court and in transition.

Hutchison is the clear offensive weapon for the 16-4 Broncos. His efficiency isn’t always great—he’s in the 50th percentile for spot up success (his most used play type), according to Synergy—but he’s also the player defenses are focusing on and double teaming on a nightly basis. He commands 18.2 field goals per 40 minutes with a 34.2% usage rate, but also runs the ball with a solid playmaking eye, as his 22.6% assist rate is what you’d want to see from a high usage player. A 3.2/3.5 assist-to-turnover ratio isn’t great, but it’s understandable given his role.

His shooting isn’t totally consistent yet; after hitting 7 threes against San Diego State, Hutchison went 1 of 9 from three in his next two games. The good news is he doesn’t rely on his three in order to impact the game; against No. 23 ranked Nevada, he was 0 of 5 from three, but still finished with 27 points, five boards, three assists, and four steals on 10-of-18 shooting.

One of my friends/a fellow armchair scout is a Boise State loyalist, and has certainly watched more Broncos basketball over the past four years than the rest of us. He pointed out Hutchison’s improved shooting (his TS% and 3P% have climbed every year of his career) and increased ability to get into the paint/finish against contact as reasons to believe in his work ethic. He questions if Hutchison has the aggressive mentality to become a big scorer at the NBA level, but says Hutchison’s defense and rebounding are both strong enough to predict Hutchison will earn a Swiss Army knife roleplayer spot in the NBA.

Come June, I would not be shocked to see Hutchison snag a late teens/early 20s first round pick. Despite his age (a senior who will be 22 by draft day), he’s the type of multi-demensional player teams covet, especially when he’s showing strong creation ability.