Tha Sports Junkies 101

Player Comps for the Top 5 NBA Draft Prospects

NBA Draft Dan Garcia/ via Flickr


The NBA Draft is an essential tool for NBA teams to differentiate themselves from each other and build toward the future. The draft process can be tough to navigate if you’re an NBA watcher but don’t see more than a couple NCAA games a year. It’s hard to get an accurate representation of any prospect from watching 1-2 games of the NCAA tournament,  but you also want to know as much as you can about potential new players for your favorite team.

To help you out, I’ve built an interactive prospect comps machine. You can select any one of about 50 draft prospects and it’ll tell you their top 15 current NBA player comparisons.

How the Comps are Done

These comparisons are based on offense only, and are comparisons of style, not skill.

Let’s say the machine says my comp is Isaiah Thomas. That doesn’t mean I’m as good as Thomas, or that I have the potential to be Thomas. All that means is that Thomas and I do a lot of the same types of actions on offense.

Those are the actions that are compared:

  1. Spot Up
  2. Isolation
  3. Pick & Roll – Ball Handler
  4. Cut
  5. Use an off-ball screen
  6. Post Up
  7. Pick & Roll – Roll Man
  8. Putbacks
  9. Handoffs

Points of Emphasis When Interpreting Data

First, the results of this aren’t my opinions. The data was in no way manipulated and is just a result of comparing frequency data of NBA draft prospects and current pros.

Secondly, the percentages you’ll find on the comp machine aren’t efficiency percentiles, they’re frequency percentages. 20% means that the player in question spends 20% of their possessions doing that action.

The percentages next to the NBA players’ names below are similarity scores. The higher they are, the closer the prospect is to having the same offensive style of player as that current pro.

It’s also important to understand what prospects do in college doesn’t necessarily carry over to what they’ll be doing in the NBA. Roles can change to varying degrees.

Some guys, like Kyrie Irving, are almost clones of their college selves when looking at this frequency data. Other players may have a different role in the NBA than they did in college. There are a lot of superstars in college, but many of those players are role players in the NBA, resulting in less isolation possessions. This is just one example. A player who was playing out of position in college, like an NBA SF playing PF at the college level, will likely have a profile in the NBA that’s different from their college frequency breakdown.

The only subjective part of this piece is that I chose the first five prospects to analyze. I’ll be doing a part tw0 of this piece that looks at prospects 6-10. The top five I chose are based on my rankings of the top prospects after scouting the players using film and analytics.

NBA Draft Prospect Notable Top Comps

1. Lonzo Ball

92.4%: Gerald Henderson

92.2%: TJ Warren

91.7: Gary Harris

Ball’s comps are underwhelming if you don’t understand the way this tool works. I’d expect backlash if I were to tell NBA fans that Lonzo is Gerald Henderson. But he’s not. His comps being these three players doesn’t mean that they are his ceiling or that they match his skill level. These comps are purely a stylistic match.

One thing that really did stand out was that when compared to the average NBA point guard and the average NBA shooting guard, Ball’s profile was closer to a SG than a PG. By using the same similarity scores as we’re using to compare prospects to NBA players, we can see that Ball doesn’t profile looks more like an NBA shooting guard than point guard.

NBA Draft

Ball does a lot more off-ball than he does as the primary ball handler than a typical NBA point guard, resulting in none of his top comps being point guards. He doesn’t iso nearly as much as you’d expect considering how good he’s been in isolation this year (1.233 PPP, 97th percentile in college basketball). He has a solid mix of cutting and off screen scoring, and is good in both departments.

This is atypical for a point guard in the NBA, but is a positive for Ball because it adds proven versatility to his profile, something that Fultz’s college profile doesn’t quite possess. 

This can be critical for a couple different teams looking to draft Lonzo. Boston has star Isaiah Thomas starting at point guard. The Lakers have D’Angelo Russell as their incumbent starter (although they may want to explore moving him to the SG position as I cover here). The Suns have Eric Bledsoe and Tyler Ulis already on their roster. Ball having the ability to play a combo guard role where he can handle the ball sometimes but also effectively operate in off-ball actions is an asset for him.

Also keep in mind that Ball’s data also doesn’t account for his passing prowess, which is a significant part of his game.

2. Markelle Fultz

95.2%: Mike Conley

95.1%: D’Angelo Russell

94.7%: Kyle Lowry

Of any of the players on this list, Fultz’s comps jump off the page most, but try to refrain from seeing these comps and proclaiming that Fultz’s argument for the top pick is aided by these results.

Remember that this isn’t to say he is, or will become, any of these players. What it does mean is that Fultz operates at Washington in a style that matches the way these players currently play in the NBA. This group consists of pick and roll dominant ball handlers who also have a combination of isolation, spotting up, scoring off screens, and handoffs mixed into their repertoire.

3. Josh Jackson

95.6%: Jabari Parker

95.5%: Aaron Gordon

94.4%: Wilson Chandler

Having watched a fair amount of Jackson film, these comps make a lot of sense. Jackson has a plurality of spot up possessions along with a good mix of isolation, pick and roll ball handler, cutting, post ups, and put backs. He even has a fair number of handoffs and possessions rolling in the pick and roll. The only action Jackson hasn’t been utilized much for at Kansas is scoring off of screens, which makes sense because the Jayhawks primarily runs a 3 out, 2 in system and has a similar 3 out, 2 in offensive system for when the initial plays break down. With Jackson playing the 4 for Kansas he was almost never utilized in that type of offense to be running off of screens.

4. Jonathan Isaac

95.2%: Kyle Anderson

93.3%: Jaylen Brown

92.6%: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

Jonathan Isaac is an NBA draft prospect that intrigues. He’s ranked pretty high on some draft boards and lower on others. I have him as my 4th best prospect, and you can see exactly why here. When looking at Isaac’s top offensive style comps, Jaylen Brown’s name stands out. Just like Brown, Isaac has great defensive potential and can be a menace on the wing for years to come. But this comp machine doesn’t look at defense, so what makes the two so similar?

Isaac profile is very much a small forward profile, and one with length. 44.38% of his possessions are spot up opportunities, 14.04% are put backs, and 12.36% are cuts to the basket. These three actions are very efficient and account for almost three quarters of what Isaac does offensively. He won’t create much, but can operate in the pick and roll. He doesn’t use many possessions in isolation at all. Isaac looks like a player that will be efficient on offense because he takes good shots, and will get to the point where he’s a lockdown defender.


5. Jayson Tatum

89.4%: Marcus Morris

87.6%: Danilo Gallinari

87.2%: Carmelo Anthony

Perhaps the most puzzling prospect in the NBA draft is Jayson Tatum. Tatum played power forward on an undersized Duke team but will play small forward in the NBA. It’s also worth noting that not many players have such an overwhelming number of their possessions be the trio of spot ups, isolation, and post ups. The Duke forward most likely won’t be able to rely as heavily on iso in the NBA and still be effective. I imagine his game morphing somewhat into more of a traditional SF role. If he doesn’t change his game, he’d be the closest thing to Carmelo Anthony we’ll have this draft.

Next Up

The 6th-10th ranked prospects on my draft board. That post will come in the next week or two. Leading up to the NBA Draft, more content on prospects will be released. Follow my Twitter account for daily information on draft prospects.

For more breakdown and analysis of draft prospects, NBA teams, and basketball scheme talk, follow me on Twitter @T1m_NBA