In general terms, every NBA Draft prospect is evaluated through the prism of his “floor” and his “ceiling.” His floor is what he projects to be in something of a worst-case scenario, like the most conservative 10-year estimate for your stock portfolio. A player’s ceiling, reasonably speaking, is his best-case scenario.
We say reasonably because you can’t attach market-exploding pipe dreams to even the most gifted of players. As hyped as LeBron James was coming out of high school, you just can’t depend on someone becoming arguably the greatest player to ever live before they’ve stepped foot in an NBA game.
In other words, LeBron, a guy who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated next to the words “The Chosen One” when he was a junior in high school, has actually been better than expected. Process that for a second. LeBron’s pre-draft ceiling was somewhere near the Earth’s outermost atmospheric range, and he blew through even the most greedy prognostications around 2016 and is currently occupying a previously uninhabitable zone of deep basketball space. He might actually be an alien when he was merely expected to be superhuman.
To a lesser degree, the same is true of Kevin Durant. Everyone knew he had the potential to be extraordinary (apprehensions about his inability to bench press 185 pounds notwithstanding), but this great? We’re talking about a four-time scoring champion who has averaged over 30 points a game twice, a level reserved for the most lethal bucket-getters in history. He put up 32 a night when he won the MVP in 2013-14. He’s won two championships and two Finals MVPs. He’s been named first-team All-NBA six times and second-team three times.
Even if you want to say Durant’s ceiling as a scorer was almost infinite coming out of his one season at Texas — given his unicornish size/skill combination and silky shooting stroke with an indefensibly high release point — it’s been the development of the rest of his game that has vaulted him into a category that nobody can be expected to enter before they actually do.
When Durant went to Golden State, Jerry West told him it was an opportunity to grow and showcase a fuller arsenal of weapons, and sure enough, he proceeded to average career highs in assists while becoming one of the league’s most impactful defenders, all while taking his shooting to positively bonkers levels of efficiency in the 2017 and 2018 playoffs.
Indeed, if you can’t responsibly assume a player the caliber of 19-year-old Durant or high school LeBron will actually blossom into a Mount-Rushmore-level star, you certainly couldn’t have looked at, say, James Harden in 2008 and forecasted him as arguably one of the best scorers in history, or Curry the same year and said he’s going to be a three-time champion, a two-time MVP and the greatest shooter to ever put on shoes.
What you could’ve said about Curry back in 2008, and what a lot of people did say, is that he was, at worst, going to be a productive NBA player on his shooting alone. If he grew as a playmaker, as a one-on-one creator, if he developed physically and became at least defensively neutral, he had All-Star potential. That Curry has blown through that ceiling in reshaping the very way we think about and play the game while becoming a generational superstar puts him in the class of market-busting overachievers. A true outlier.
The Warriors actually built their dynasty on the backs of these ceiling busters. Draymond Green, taken No. 35 overall in 2012, is way better than any honest evaluator could’ve ever envisioned him being. To a lesser degree, so is Klay Thompson, who along with Green represents the non-superstar class of overachievers. Fred VanVleet and Bam Adebayo are shooting up these ranks. Pascal Siakam showed up here last season.
Curry falls within the most elite class of total-surprise superstars, alongside guys like Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic and Damian Lillard. “In their wildest dreams, Portland never saw Lillard becoming this kind of player,” a Western Conference scout told CBS Sports.
Other names in this class include Jimmy Butler and even Luka Doncic, who, believe it or not, was actually viewed as something of a finished product by some scouts and teams when he went No. 3 overall in 2018, which is to say they felt he was already nearing his high-water mark and thus didn’t have significant room for growth. After two seasons, Doncic has already made this “ceiling” forecast look foolish.
The flip side is a guy like Lonzo Ball, who was regarded (at least by the Lakers) as at the minimum a future All-Star and a potential franchise player if he hit his ceiling when he went No. 2 overall in 2017. After three seasons, Ball remains much closer to his pre-draft floor of simply being a versatile, useful NBA player who can’t be the focal point of an offense.
Ricky Rubio, who’s starting to feel like a good Ball comp, is another guy who has fallen short of what in hindsight was clearly too ambitious a ceiling when the Timberwolves took him No. 5 overall in 2008, infamously two spots ahead of Curry.
The truth is, not a lot of players actually come to fruition in line with their most optimistic pre-draft forecasts. A lot of guys fall short while still being productive players (Harrison Barnes, Evan Turner, Austin Rivers, Jeff Green, Andrew Wiggins so far), and some, again, blossom into something nobody could see coming. But it’s the players who fall perfectly in between, who have hit the brim of their high-water mark without spilling over into the realm of overachievement, who are the focus of this piece.
Through that lens, I recently spoke with two draft scouts about different lists of “ceiling” players I’d personally selected in an effort to assemble a comprehensive list of current players who, with a sufficient enough sample size to warrant such a conclusion, fit this bill. Below are the 15 names we came up with.
As we addressed at the top with LeBron, Durant and Curry, it’s hard to say that an all-time great player has merely hit his ceiling rather than exceeded reasonable expectations, and Paul is definitely an all-time great player. But he’s not quite on the level of a Durant or certainly LeBron or Curry where you can say he’s completely shot the moon relative to his expectations. Again, he was always considered to have all the makings of an elite point guard.
With one exception: He’s really small. Every player has to answer at least one question to hit his so-called ceiling (even LeBron had to develop as a shooter), and Paul answered pretty much the only one people had about him with an ability to not just compete with, but overmatch players who are bigger than him.
Bottom line: Paul was the best point guard of his era until Curry came along, and if you looked at his skills and competitiveness when he came into the league, and imagined all parts of his game coming together, that’s a designation that was a reasonable high point for him to hit. It sounds like a high bar for a six-foot guy, and it is. But he hasn’t won an MVP. He hasn’t won a championship or even made a Finals appearance. He’s not a one-man title contender. If he becomes that, maybe he’s an overachiever. But All-NBA status was right in line with his potential.
- Scout’s Take: “You have to understand, there were some questions about Chris coming out [of college]. The size was a real thing. When Chris played against some of the bigger guards in the ACC, they used to frustrate the hell out of him. Not a lot of people remember that. So to me you knew a lot of what you were getting with Chris, but his ability to deal with size, really good athletes at 6-5, 6-6, good feet, that’s what he had to figure out to really hit his ceiling. And he’s done that. I wouldn’t say he’s an overachiever, because he was definitely a prospect people saw potential greatness in, but there were some questions. It wasn’t as clear cut as a guy like Deron Williams, who went ahead of Chris (No. 3 to Utah) if you remember right, probably mostly just because of the size factor.”
2. JJ Redick
On paper, Redick, who has never made an All-Star team, might look like a borderline underachiever for a guy who was a two-time All-American at Duke, where he averaged almost 27 points a game his senior season. But in reality, Redick is arguably the clearest example of a guy who has hit pretty square on his pre-draft ceiling over a 14-year (and counting) NBA career
Why? Because anyone who mistook Redick’s top-dog status in college for a potential ability to occupy a similar role in the NBA was, well, mistaken. Redick was never going to create his own shot or be a No. 1 option against NBA defenses. He had one, and only one, world-class skill: Shooting.
For Redick, it was about becoming passable enough at everything else, notably on defense, to give himself a chance to max out that one elite skill. He wasn’t an instant success. Everything came together with the Clippers, when Doc Rivers gave him a chance to be a full-time starter on a good team. Redick took that opportunity and ran (largely without the ball) wild with it.
Since 2013-14, his first year with the Clippers, Redick has never averaged fewer than 15 points per game. Two seasons ago he put up 18.1 points per game as something of a go-to player for the shooting-deprived Sixers. This past season he shot 45 percent from beyond the arc for the Pelicans. Over his four seasons with the Clippers, he shot 44 percent from deep on more than 1,500 attempts. He is, flat out, one of the greatest shooters ever, but unlike other off-ball shooing wizards like, say, Reggie Miller, Redick has never entered into the realm of stardom.
“With shooters, there’s a big difference in guys who can catch and shoot and guys who can shoot off a dead sprint,” former NBA marksman Allan Houston, who now works in the New York Knicks‘ front office, told CBS Sports. “Redick is one of those guys who can catch at full speed, turn and fire. Klay [Thompson] is like that. Reggie [Miller]. That’s another level of shooting.”
- Scout’s Take: “What I think really helped JJ was how he was used at Duke. He played without the ball, which got him prepared for what he was going to have to do in the NBA, so now he’s got a head start in terms of understanding how to come off screens, how to set up the dribble handoff, so on and so forth. … I think Jimmer Fredette is a pertinent example here, where he was a guy who was asked to play with the ball and create off the dribble in college, so when he got to the NBA he had to change who he was. A lot of basketball, especially for players who are, let’s use the term one-dimensional, it’s so much situational. I think because of his situation in college, JJ knew who he was from the start, and with his shooting and work ethic, he gave himself that head start in terms of figuring out his place in the league and then kind of going from there. I’m a huge JJ fan.”
Prior to the 2019 draft, which of course featured Zion Williamson, I remember talking to a scout who said “there’s no Anthony Davis is this draft,” which is another way of saying there’s no surefire two-way superstar. That’s what Davis was coming out of Kentucky — as close to a sure thing as anyone not named LeBron, and through eight seasons he has done nothing to invalidate that belief.
Davis is a four-time first-team All-NBA and four-time All-Defense selection. He has a legitimate case as a top-five player in the NBA; in fact, that might be a conservative assessment at this point. Everyone is talking about Davis right now after what he just did for the Lakers, but he was a monster in New Orleans too.
In his first playoff run, he averaged 31.5 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks a game on 54-percent shooting. In his second Pelicans postseason, he averaged 30.1 points, 13.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks on 52-percent shooting. In his third postseason, he won his first championship with the Lakers while averaging 27.7 points courtesy of shooting numbers on par with Kevin Durant.
Durant, in fact, is a pretty perfect comp here. He was an all-time great in Oklahoma City who got even better with Golden State by teaming up with a player in Curry who demanded as much, if not more, attention as he did; his shots got easier, and thus he made greater percentages of them. Davis is roughly the same player he was in New Orleans; he’s just playing under better conditions next to LeBron.
Davis is still plenty young enough (27 years old) to still rise to a level of an overachiever, even relative to his enormous upside coming into the league. If he becomes one of the 15 best players ever, which I don’t think is out of reach, we’ll have another conversation then. For now, Davis has hit his extremely high ceiling just about dead on.
- Scout’s Take: “Again, you can’t just brand a guy an All-NBA, MVP-type player coming out of college just because they go high in the draft or whatever, it just doesn’t work like that. Unless they’re Shaquille O’Neal or something where they have these features, physically, that just jump out at you. So when you talk about Anthony Davis, yeah, he jumped out at you at Kentucky. No question. The size, the athleticism, the shot blocking, the ability to play on perimeter. He was special, no doubt about it.”
Love went No. 5 overall in 2008, interestingly one spot behind his UCLA teammate Russell Westbrook, who is another guy who fits on this ceiling list pretty well. Westbrook never became a good shooter, but he was taken No. 4 because of his athleticism, energy and all-around explosive features with the hope that he could turn those physical qualities into an All-Star career. He went beyond that by averaging a triple-double and winning an MVP, which probably slides him more into the overachiever part of the diagram.
With Love, there were fewer questions about what he could develop into, which is to say he wasn’t as raw as Westbrook, more of a known quantity. He peaked individually in Minnesota as a walking double-double: 20 and 15 in his third season, 26 and 13 in his fourth season, 18 and 14 in his fifth season, and 26 and 12 in his final season with the Wolves.
With Cleveland, he won a championship and adjusted his game to become more of a floor spacer for LeBron and Kyrie, but he was still a 19-and-11 guy and a 41-percent 3-point shooter in different seasons during that run. Love was a 35-percent 3-point shooter in his lone college season, and he has bested that mark in nine of his 12 NBA seasons. Even if Love never became an upper-class defender, that’s how he hit his ceiling: by expanding a crucial element of his game alongside the foundation of his 20-10 fundamental assets.
- Scout’s Take: “Another example of a guy, I think when he came in the league, this is pretty much what you envisioned: Scoring and rebounding, and a guy who had the 3-point stroke to expand that part of his game. But just an excellent rebounder. That’s something that always stood out. Still a great passer. Yeah, no question. He’s been what he was supposed to be.”
Maybe the most maligned first-ballot Hall of Famer in history has penned a career that has been every bit of what was advertised. Melo came out the same year as LeBron; they were linked together throughout their amateur journeys. And in many ways it has worked against Anthony that LeBron has gone on to become arguably the greatest player ever, because people have always seen them as rivals and Melo just can’t hang in that debate.
But listen, Anthony is one of the greatest scorers to ever play. There isn’t a single spot on the floor from which he couldn’t get a bucket in his day. He still has one of the purest strokes you’ll ever see. When he was young, he was an absolute bull in the paint: A quick jumper with straight-up man strength and sublime footwork around the hoop. The face-up, jab-step elbow jumper is signature.
People say Carmelo isn’t a winner, but he had the Nuggets tied 2-2 with the Lakers in the 2009 conference finals. He got lost in New York, but who wouldn’t have with those rosters? Context is everything. Analytics have brought his value into unrelenting question, but we’re talking about a guy who averaged over 28 points a game three times. That is elite territory.
- Scout’s Take: “Yep. Couldn’t agree more. He came in a scorer, and he’ll go out a scorer. What I think is interesting about Melo is he was such a gifted one-on-one scorer in his prime — and we know how important that is in the playoffs — that it would’ve been great to see him on a team that was good enough, I don’t want to say cover for his weaknesses, but just a team that had the right pieces where he could be in a position to just be a scorer in big games, just do what he does down the stretch. You know what I mean? Where you just kind of throw out the numbers, late in the fourth quarter, and he just attacks, gets to the foul line, posting up, pull-up jumpers. I think we would look at him differently if he’d gotten those consistent opportunities to play deep in the playoffs.”
We’re talking pre-injury Hayward here. During his last season in Utah, Hayward averaged just under 22 points per game and made his only All-Star team. He was trending up, seemingly ready to enter into the realm of true stardom upon his relocation to Boston. One of the most gruesome injuries in history completely stalled that ascension, and though Hayward has shown signs of being close to the player he was in Utah, at least for stretches, he’s never been able to stay consistently healthy or productive for the Celtics.
Still, when he was taken No. 9 overall in 2010 out of Butler, it’s hard to say you expected him to reach a level higher than 22 points per game in the NBA with solid playmaking skills and underrated defense. That’s getting into elite territory, and Hayward wasn’t a player with truly elite expectations.
- Scout’s Take: “With Gordon, you knew he had a good range of skills. He had good touch on his shot, he’s tough, smart competitive, he was always seen as a plus athlete. He’s improved his range [on his shot] since he got in the NBA, but boy, this is a tough one for me. I just think once you start getting up into the 23-point-a-game area, that’s significant. I don’t know that you could’ve just said you expected him to do that coming out of a mid-major, even one as accomplished as Butler. I don’t know. I might lean toward him being an overachiever, again, just based on where he got in Utah. That’s a close one.”
Like Chris Paul, George is another one that could easily be argued as an overachiever, George has, at his height, reached top-three MVP status as a guy who was taken No. 10 overall out of Fresno State. But the thing is, there was so much physical upside that the Pacers, who drafted George, could honestly allow themselves to dream on the player George became for them and has since been for Oklahoma City and the Clippers — a long, athletic, two-way star who can shoot it with range, create for himself and defend pretty much across the board.
If you look at George simply through the prism of his 2018-19 high point, when he averaged 28 points, eight rebounds, four assists and two steals a game for the Thunder and was legitimately the best player in the league for a stretch, he’s a clear overachiever. But that’s not an entirely consistent reflection of what he’s been.
In reality, George has been a 1B-type player, a well-above-average 3-point shooter who can get 30 (or 14) any night and defend the best player on the opposing team — not quite LeBron/Durant level, but one notch below in terms of pure ability, and that was not an unforeseeable pre-draft outcome given his physical traits. It was supremely optimistic. But not out of the question.
- Scout’s Take: “I’m not as up on what he was like coming out of college, but I will tell you that in talking to scouts who were around him at that time, they all saw great upside. The question about him, I don’t want to use the word intensity, but did he have that mindset where he was going to show up every single night ready to play a high level. But from a physical standpoint, there was no question he had a chance to become an elite two-way player, and he’s obviously done that.”
Taken No. 1 overall in 2011, Irving is a six-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA recipient. The highlight of his career is the Cavaliers‘ 2016 championship when he played Robin to LeBron’s Batman and hit one of the biggest shots in NBA history to seal Game 7 for Cleveland.
Has Irving proven he can be the best player on a championship-contending team? No. If he ever does that, perhaps we’ll start to talk about him as a guy who surpassed his projections, but that seems unlikely as he’s now teamed up with Kevin Durant, a better player, likely through the remainder of his prime.
- Scout’s Take: “When you draft Kyrie Irving, you expect him to be a big-time individual creator, a guy who can light up the scoreboard, elite ball-handler, and he’s been that. I think Kyrie is what he is. I don’t think he has become anything that you couldn’t have seen coming, but he’s maxed out on the stuff he does really well.”
Horford was part of an ensemble unit at Florida that won back-to-back national championships, and he has been something of an ensemble player in his NBA career as well. Never a traditional No. 1 guy, he was a core piece of better-than-the-sum-of-their-parts teams in Atlanta, and his time in Boston roughly fit that script as well.
Horford is a workingman’s star. If he’s on your team, you’re almost certainly going to be good (unless you’re the 2019-20 Sixers), as evidenced by Horford having been in the playoffs in 12 of his 13 seasons. When he came out of Florida after his junior year, he went No. 3 overall but wasn’t expected to be a superstar. He was long and athletic for his size, a smart and strong defensive player, but it was his offense that was a question. His post-up game was unrefined, described as “choppy,” and he wasn’t a stretch shooter.
This is where the NBA changing to a defensively versatile, stretch-shooting big man’s league has greatly benefited Horford, who is one of the rare big men that can serve as the fulcrum of an offense with natural passing skills and a 3-point shot that developed into a major weapon. His defense was a foundational component of this game from the start, and at his height he’s given the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid fits.
- Scout’s Take: Yes. Great example of a ceiling guy. Wasn’t expected to be a classic No. 1 [option]. And here you’re talking about a guy who changed his game to go to another level. When he came in the league he wasn’t much of an outside shooter. Always a good facilitator, good decision maker, strong rebounder, all that, but now he’s a legitimate threat from the NBA from the perimeter. I think if you go look at his numbers, I think he was damn near in single digits shooting the ball from three in his first couple years, and over the last five or six years he’s one of the best 3-point shooting big men in the NBA.
*It’s true, Horford never attempted more than six total 3-pointers in any of his first six seasons, and he attempted just 29 total through his first seven seasons. Over the last five seasons, he’s shot 1,210 at just under 37 percent, topping out in 2017-18 when he hit 43 percent of his triples on over three attempts per game.
Andre Iguodala, at worst, has been the second-best player to come out of the 2004 draft, with Dwight Howard being the only other candidate. When Iguodala landed in Philadelphia, which took him No. 9 overall, he was miscast as a lead offensive option. He was good in that role; he never reached 20 points per game, but he was just below for the bulk of his time in Philly and he was always a high-assist guy and a solid positional rebounder. But he likely wouldn’t have reached his ceiling on that path.
When he wound up in Denver in 2012-13, his career shifted in the direction it was always meant to take — not as a No. 1 guy, but as a Jack-of-all-trades, filling in the gaps on offense, running the floor, the guy always making the proverbial right play and arguably the best perimeter defender of his era.
After six seasons with the Warriors — during which he went to five NBA Finals, winning three championships and a Finals MVP — Iguodala has a Hall of Fame case. I’m not saying he’ll get in, but he’s got a case, and he built it by being true to the player he was always meant to be, rather than stretching himself into a go-to scorer. It took him going to a team that didn’t draft him to find his best place in the NBA, but he found it, and it led him to his ceiling.
- Scout’s Take: “Shooting never improved significantly, but when [Philly] drafted him, you’re saying worst case we’re getting a guy who’s going to be able to step out here and defend every night, rebound the ball for his position, score in transition, and I think he made good on all of that. But not much more than that. He didn’t turn into a superstar or anything. Obviously, he was a significant part of a championship team where he found the perfect role, and his defensive presence was always there.”
After leading UConn to the 2011 national championship, Walker was drafted No. 9 overall by the then Charlotte Bobcats, and at his peak, he posted 25 points, six assists and four rebounds per game in 2018, which resulted in one of his four All-Star appearances and his lone All-NBA nod (third team).
Walker didn’t shine quite as brightly in his first season with Boston, which offered far more supporting talent and thus didn’t require the nightly heroics he was performing in the latter stage of his Charlotte tenure. With Walker, there was always a question about his size; he’s not much more than six feet, at best, and his jump shot wasn’t a reliable weapon his first few years in the league. He was an explosive player, almost impossible to stay in front of off the dribble, with big-time toughness and competitiveness.
Walker got so good by the end of his Charlotte tenure, he was starting to border on an overachiever given the questions that people had about him when he came into the league as far as size and shooting. But he hasn’t ever ventured into the realm of the true top-shelf superstars, residing one sep below at his peak, and that feels like it was an attainable level for the obviously talented Walker if everything came together.
- Scout’s Take: “Ball dominant, scoring guard, great in the locker room. He’s passing the ball more now that he has better players around him in Boston, but Kemba has maxed himself out because he improved as a shooter, particularly from three. As long as you’re willing to put in the work, you can usually improve as a shooter. You can go down the line of guys who have made that leap, whether it’s Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry, Mike Conley, these guys are workers, and Kemba was always that way. He was going to put in the work.”
12. C.J. McCollum
The Blazers took McCollum No. 10 overall in 2013, one pick ahead of Trey Burke, who was a much bigger name in college. It goes to show the thin line on which these teams are walking as they try to predict the fully formed future of 18-22-year-olds.
Over the past five seasons with Portland, McCollum has averaged just under 22 points per game. He has proven to be one of the elite one-on-one scorers in the league who is capable of carrying an offense for stretches in the playoffs. He’s never made an All-Star team, but that says more about the depth of superstars in the Western Conference than it does McCollum.
- Scout’s Take: “McCollum has been exactly what you thought he had a chance be. Combo guard, elite off the dribble, a natural scorer. The question about C.J. coming out of college was could he make that transition to point guard, and he hasn’t had to do a whole lot of that with Lillard [in the same backcourt.] Good situation, really good player. Portland hit with that pick, for sure.”
13. Mike Conley
Conley followed a great run of picks in 2007, going No. 4 to the Grizzlies after Kevin Durant and Al Horford went Nos. 2 and 3, and he went on to have a fantastic run in Memphis. Conley topped out as a 20-point-a-night scorer in 2016-17, but he lived more in the 15-point, six-assist range in leading the Grizzlies to six playoff berths, including one trip to the conference finals.
Conley’s upside was built around his quickness, first and foremost. He was extremely difficult to stay in front of during his one year at Ohio State. He was always a low-turnover, great-passing guy, a classic point guard in that way, dependable more than dominant. He had to get better as a shooter, and he did, going from a 30-percent 3-point shooter in college to a 38-percent shooter from deep in the pros, topping out a over 40 percent in 2016-17.
Conley was never projected to be a top-level star in the way, say, Chris Paul or Deron Williams were as point guards, but he was expected to be very good, and that’s precisely what he’s been. He’s never made an All-Star team but he was surely an All-Star-level player through most of his prime.
- Scout’s Take: “Steady. You’re talking about a guy who was going to be very steady, not going to do things to hurt you, improved as a shooter, I think coming out he’s probably been right at the high end of his expectations. And those Memphis teams won a lot of games. That’s one thing you could always count on when you talk about Mike Conley. He’s going to give you a chance to win every night.”
Much like JJ Redick, there was only one route to NBA relevance for Korver: Shoot the lights out. And that he has done. Over 17 seasons (a monster accomplishment in itself), Korver has shot 42.9 percent from deep for his career, the 10th-best mark in history. He has been a double-digit scorer in over half his seasons and a better team defender than he got credit for. Korver was never going to be a guy who could create his own shot or really do anything off the dribble, but he’s constantly moving without the ball and has an ultra-quick trigger off the catch.
On paper, Korver looks like a clear overachiever. He was drafted in the second round, 51st overall, an afterthought, and he has gone on to become one of the best shooters ever. But you can’t say the ceiling wasn’t super high for Korver as a shooter. In four years at Creighton, he shot 43, 45, 43 and 48 percent from beyond the arc, respectively. You wondered if he had the athleticism to survive in the NBA, but if he found a way to stay on the court, the idea that he could, under optimal circumstances, become a truly great shooter was not out of the realm of possibility.
- Scout’s Take: “I remember listening to Jerry West one time talking about shooting and he said it wasn’t as important to him to have his feet set under him as long as he could get his elbow in the right spot and get his hand behind the ball, he had a chance to get it to go in. I think JJ [Redick] is the guy that embodies that the best, but Korver is another guy in that category. Hand position on the ball very consistent, elbow position under the ball very consistent. Sprints off screens, and just having that consistent release. Great shooter. Got the most out of his ability. No question.”
The 2013 draft, at the time, felt a lot like this upcoming 2020 draft in that there weren’t any consensus can’t miss prospects and it was considered a relatively weak draft at the top. That’s how Anthony Bennett, who lasted just four years in the league with four different teams, came out of nowhere to go No. 1 overall. Oladipo went next at No. 2. C.J. McCollum went No. 10 and some Greek fella named Giannis Antetokounmpo went No. 15.
Oladipo wasn’t a big scorer in three college seasons at Indiana, topping out at 13 points a game his junior season. He wasn’t a consistent (or a frequent) shooter. What he was, much like Donovan Mitchell at Louisville, was an extremely strong, fast, explosive athlete, and he was a stud on defense. Like Mitchell, he was never a true go-to scorer in college, but he became one in the NBA, though it took him longer to find that level than it did Mitchell.
Oladipo was fine in Orlando, struggled some next to Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City, before growing into an All-Star with the Pacers, topping out at 23 points, five rebounds, four steals and 2.3 steals per game (which led the league) in 2017-18, the first of his back-to-back All-Star nods. Oladipo has never become a top-flight superstar, but he was bumping up against that ceiling before he ruptured his quad in 2019.
Oladipo has been in a lot of trade rumors of late. He still has room and time to get even better. But at this point, what Oladipo turned into after going No. 2 in a weak draft, with a lot of strides to make as an offensive player, feels like a pretty good example of a ceiling guy.
- Scout’s Take: “I remember seeing him when he was a young kid in USA basketball, and I think everybody was intrigued by his offense, probably more than people talk about. His ability to score, he had good size, good athlete, he could shoot it from distance. I think scoring off the dribble, or being able to be more elusive off the dribble, was the thing people questioned, but he has developed into a guy that really knows how to read screens well, he moves very efficiently without the basketball, and he’s gotten to the point where he can use a couple dribbles to score. His handle has really improved.”