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Revisiting The 2019 NBA Draft: RSCI Ranks From Seniors to Freshmen

With the 2019 NBA Draft in the rear-view mirror, it is time to get a look at the RSCI rankings to see how scouts and talent finders fared during the past few years in relation to where prospects were ultimately selected this summer.

De’Andre Hunter (Getty Images)

If you are an avid reader of Ridiculous Upside, you probably know what the RSCI Rankings are and how they have been more or less reliable in order to predict where players are picked in the different NBA drafts and how they have performed over their careers.

If you are not, here is a little summary from the first entry of the RSCI series:

Thanks to RSCI Rankings (a prospect ranking system that averages the rank different platforms assign each player coming out of high school) and, it is easy to get a straightforward path to knowing how good on average players were ranked by scouting services back in the day. Every RSCI ranking from 1998 to 2018 can be found on B-Ref website along with information regarding the college each player attended, the year/round/pick/team he was drafted at and by, the years at which he entered the NBA and lastly played a game, and the Win Shares he produced over his career.

As no player from this year’s draft has played his first game yet, we can only look back to where they were ranked, and where they were drafted at.

First things first. Each season, there are around 100 players making the year’s RSCI rank of that class. Considering players normally spend one to four years in college, the 2019 draft should have been comprised exclusively of players from the 2015 to 2018 HS classes. That was not the case, though, as Cody Martin was part of the 2014 HS class but was drafted this summer due to him transferring back in the day, spending an extra year playing college ball.

All in all, these are the 28 players to be included in their HS class Top-100 per RSCI rankings that were drafted in this past draft:

Before getting into details, it is worth it to get a broad idea of how the past four classes did in terms of producing NBA draft picks.

Keeping in mind 100 players are ranked each year, and that we have four classes (with the exception of Martin belonging to a fifth one), that gives us a field of 400 players to pick from. Of those, to this point (players from the 2016 class on would still be college-eligible next season) 28 have been drafted. That is seven percent of the 400.

If we’re realistic, though, we must account for the number of draft slots, which is not 100 but rather 60 each edition. That adds up to 240 actual chances of getting selected. 28 of 240 means 12 percent of draft picks were once ranked by RSCI as Top-100 players of their class.

Although it will probably grow with time, as the late classes will probably produce more NBA players in due time once they leave the NCAA ranks, that surely isn’t a huge number.

As I have explored during the deep exploration of the RSCI rankings and the scouting accuracy in the series I introduced at the start of this article, there is a clear relation between class, rank, and draft slot.

That is not much of an insight, though. Prospects that are great exiting HS tend to play less college basketball than those still raw that need to build their reputation and improve their game. That shows in the chart above.

The average ranking of one-and-dones (players from the 2018 HS class drafted in 2019) is No. 20. It goes down to 44, 54 and 98 in the prior years, following a clear downward trend.

Every year, each draft brings busts and gems. We may not know who turns into what until a few years from the moment players are drafted, but we can assign a starting value to how much a player can be deemed a “steal” from the get-go. In order to do that, I just calculated a simple, objective value based on both the spot the player was drafted and how high he was ranked among his HS class peers.

I called this value “Rk/Pk” and that is the actual calculation of it. Just divide his RSCI-rank by his draft slot, and the lower the value the greater the chance he turns into a steal, and the greatest the value the team drafting him extracted from the pick as he should have been gone earlier in the draft. In order to account for the player experience, I finally divided the Rk/Pk value by the number of years the prospect spent at the NCAA-level, so younger players have more upside.

Here is how the 2019 draft looks like, player-by-player. The size of the circles mark the player experience (smaller for freshmen, bigger for seniors), and the color varies from green (lower Rk/Pk - more upside) to red (higher Rk/Pk - less upside):

The fact that Zion Williamson or RJ Barrett sport orange and yellow marks is not bad. It is normal, actually, given that they were so highly ranked that there is not much to expect from them in term of overcoming what is already expected from them to do at the professional level.

De’Andre Hunter’s case is quite unique. He was the No. 4 overall pick of the 2019 draft, yet he was only ranked No. 74 coming out of high school in 2016. Clearly, it is a case of a prospect underdeveloped that needed time at the collegiate level to hone his game, which seems that ultimately paid off for him. By this system, though, Atlanta is running the risk of picking a not-so-heralded prospect too high in the draft. We’ll see how things go for the Hawks.

On the other side of the coin, there were three clear “steals” in the last draft:

  • We may not consider Cam Reddish a true steal given that he was picked as high as 10th, but given he’s a one-and-done and that he was the 2nd-best player of the 2018 class, it could very easily turn out that way.
  • Nassir Little was drafted at the 25th spot by Portland after being considered the No. 3 player of the 2018 HS class. That is quite a drop for a one-and-done ranked as high as Nassir was, so Portland may have struck gold with him.
  • Finally, Bol Bol dropped to the middle of the second round after missing almost the entire season due to an injury. Denver traded to get him at the 44th spot, and while that is not an “all-time-great steal” per se (it only ranks as the 26th-best mark since 1998), it could turn into the biggest robbery of the past decade, if not more.

Of those not part of the 2018 HS class, that is, not freshmen, there are two players with high upside considering their rank and where they were picked:

  • Jaylen Hands was ranked No. 22 in the 2017 class yet he barely got drafted this year, with the Clippers getting him with the 56th pick. He’s got the lowest of Rk/Pk values among all of the drafted upperclassmen.
  • Dewan Hernandez comes as a junior and was the 27th-best player of the 2016 class. Toronto picked him with the 59th pick and would definitely hope he fulfills what was seen as a great potential only three years ago.

Finally, a quick look at where prospects came from. There is no surprise at the top of the list. Both Duke and Kentucky are two blue-bloods widely known as one-and-done factories that produce NBA talent on a daily basis. Virginia, while not that heralded, won the last NCAA tournament.

Four universities produced two draftees with North Carolina, another blue-blood, leading the way in terms of average draft slot. Of those that only put one player in the draft history books, Vanderbilt and Indiana were the only colleges to score lottery selections (Darius Garland and Romeo Langford respectively).