Zion Williamson. Ja Morant. RJ Barrett. I’m tired of those names.
The draft came and went in a hurry. Some picks were expected, as those already mentioned. Others were totally up in the air. And the rest of the field’s chances to get selected were fewer than a flipped coin landing on its edge.
For the members of that last group, though, there has never been a better moment to be an undrafted free agent.
That is why I’m here to bring a few names to your attention, putting them in context among their peers during what was the 2019 college basketball season. And let me tell you, some teams will definitely regret not calling their names in the near future during the duration of this year’s draft.
Quick note: I pulled the 1500-best players in terms of Win Shares from Sports-Reference.com data. Statistics are from the 2018-19 NCAA D-I season.
(G) Fletcher Magee - Wofford - Signed by Milwaukee
Although coming from a weak Southern Conference, Magee is the only signed-UFA from my list to break the .275 WS/48 mark. Actually, there were only 41 players to reach that or a better mark during the 2018-19 season.
Of those 41 players, only eight were selected (filled dots) during the last draft (those that were not didn’t declare) and Magee ranked higher than four others that heard their names called on draft night, three of them lottery picks.
(C) Tacko Fall - UCF - Signed by Boston
If there was an oddity on this draft apart from Bol Bol that must be Tacko Fall. The towering center from Central Florida completed a full college-cycle and entered the draft as a senior. Boston pounded on him after the 60 picks were made on draft night, and although his profile doesn’t fit what the league is turning into, they may have snatched a rather productive player.
Fall had the 5th-highest mark on field goal percentage at .758 during the 2018-19 season. Look at where he stands when limiting the field of 1500 players to those with a FG% greater than .600 and a TRB% of 14 percent or more.
Only three draftees are among the resulting group of 42 players, and Tacko happens to be the one that scores best on both categories, surpassing the numbers of such names as Zion Williamson and Brandon Clarke.
(G) Zach Norvell Jr. - Gonzaga - Signed by Los Angeles (Lakers)
This may look like nitpicking statistics, but at the end of the day it shows how good of a season Norvell Jr. has had as a sophomore with Gonzaga. Zach was one of the best players in terms of high-volume shooting and scoring while playing a “limited” amount of minutes.
The chart includes the only 36 players to average less than 31 minutes of playing time per game while shooting at least two 2PT shots and six three-pointers. Norvell ranks fourth-best among them in TS% (.589), clearing the marks of two draftees in Coby White (.556) and Cam Reddish (.499).
(G) Shamorie Ponds - St. John’s - Signed by Houston
Although the “Process” seems over after the 76ers made some bold moves during the 2018-19 NBA season to turn into instant contenders bringing both Butler and Harris to the team, Philadelphia is not completely out of it. The signing of Shamorie Ponds speaks by itself.
If there is something to value when discussing a leading guard, that’s how he deals with taking care of the ball’s possession. Looking at players with at least a 2.5 AST/TOV ratio, Ponds ranked 16th-best in 2018-19 among those averaging more than five assists and less than 1.5 turnovers per game. Not claiming victories yet, but the 76ers may have found in Shamorie what they thought they got in Fultz back in the day.
(F) Dedric Lawson - Kansas - Signed by Golden State
(F) Zylan Cheatham - Arizona State - Signed by New Orleans
With a data set comprised of the 1500-best players in 2018-19 you definitely expect some things to happen and show up in the data. Turns out, there are not many comparables to Lawson and Cheatham when talking about scoring and rebounding in bunches.
A grand total of 18 players averaged a points-rebounds double-double this season in the NCAA. Of those, 13 did it averaging 30 minutes or more per game. And in that select group, both Lawson and Cheatham stand out as undrafted players that found a team in no time after the drafted ended.
Lawson ranks 3rd in WS/48 among those 13 players, having put up 19.4 PPG and 10.3 RPG. On Cheatham side, the numbers ended at 12.1 and 10.3 respectively. Golden State and New Orleans definitely are on completely opposite sides of the contending spectrum, yet both are betting on unique forwards for pennies. Looks clever to me.
These are only six names. Six among quite a lot of individuals that weren’t awarded the pleasure of becoming part of the NBA draft history books. Six among those who battled for a professional future at the highest of levels basketball can offer, yet fall short in principle. But six that ultimately will have the chance to prove they’re worth more than 30 teams deemed not good enough to turn into draft picks.
The path is still open for them an more. The summer is ahead and the future is bright. The chance is there for them to take, and only time will tell, but rest assured some of the names I just mentioned (and others way less heralded and floated around) will definitely beat the odds and surpass the productivity of more than one and two draftees.