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Revisiting The 2019 NBA Draft: RSCI One-and-Dones

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 fare back in 2018 in relation to where prospects were ultimately selected this summer.

Michael J. LeBrecht II/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 Basketball-Reference.com, 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. For the HS class of 2018 there are 101 entries though, as there was a tie at the 100th spot. Here are the Top-25 players in the class:

I have highlighted in green those selected in this year’s draft, including the team that picked them in light gray next to their position in the RSCI rank (Anfernee Simons, although in red, was picked by Portland in 2018). Out of 25 prospects, eight were selected (nine with Simons), which yields a not-bad 36%.

Looking at those selected, the positions they occupy are really not surprising and could have been expected to a certain extent. After all, the best-ranked recruits should be those selected atop the draft. That is mostly the case here, with the six-best players being picked in 2019 and Simons (No. 7) in 2018.

If we dig deeper, though, things start to not align so well.

There are this summer’s 13 overall draft picks. As already introduced, eight were part of the Top-25 of the class, while the other five fell short of the cream of the crop. As it usually happens with these things, the chart looks like a shotgun wildly fired toward a couple of axes.

If scouts were to be fully trusted, the trend line would go from the top-left corner to the bottom-right one. Turns out, they’re not.

Of the 13 picks, three heard their name in the second round of the draft, and one of them (Bol Bol) had to wait until pick number 44 after having been deemed the 6th-best prospect coming out of HS in 2018. Yes, he was injured early in the season and missed most of it, but it shows how things can change in a mere few months.

Widely expected though are the names of the colleges of this class’ one-and-dones drafted by NBA teams. Duke leads the pack with three RSCI-ranked prospects making it to the NBA (all Top-10 picks), followed by Kentucky and North Carolina (all four first-rounders). Three other colleges were able to get a Top-100 RSCI prospect to their campus while turning them into NBA players a year after their commitment.

Darius Garland, from Vanderbilt, is the first prospect drafted from the university since a couple of players (John Jenkins and Jeff Taylor) were picked by NBA teams in the 2012 draft. While Jenkins is still playing pro-ball, Taylor was out of the NBA by the end of the 2014-15 season.

Last but not least, we can take a quick look at the 13 picks of the 2019 draft that are part of the RSCI rankings to compare their position in the 2018 HS class in relation with the slot they were selected at. Although not perfect, it is a quick proxy to how much value those players can provide the teams that picked them, supposing that highly-ranked prospect picked late in the draft are primed to turn into steals.

In order to get an objective number, I divided the player’s RSCI by its draft slot. I called this simply “Rk/Pk”, and the lower its value is, the bigger the supposed “steal”. Here is how things turned out this year:

See Zion? No surprise there. Not only did New Orleans drafted him with the No. 1 pick, they also did so while Williamson had been ranked the fourth-best prospect of the class one year to this day. Of course, the Pelicans can’t be happier with the selection no matter what scouts said back in the day.

On the other side of the coin, Nassir Little and Bol Bol are the two players most primed to become steals while comparing where they were ranked getting out of HS and where they were picked. Little had a rough season in North Carolina and ended being selected with the 25th pick of the first round. Almost doubling that, Bol Bol went into the draft with injury concerns attached to his name and that made an incredible fall to the No. 44 overall selection possible, where Denver snatched Manute’s son after a trade with the Heat.

Cam Reddish, after being ranked No. 2 of the 2018 class dropped to the 10th spot, while Langford had to wait until the 14th selection by Boston to hear his name after being deemed the fifth-best prospect of his class. Both of them will have enough motivation to prove all of the teams that passed on them wrong.

And with all that, the 2019 draft saw 13 one-and-dones enter the history books by being selected by an NBA franchise. That’s a drop from the last four drafts, as each and every one of those from 2015 to 2018 featured 14 or more college freshmen.

How they will fare in the NBA is still up in the air. The good thing for us, and for them, is that the Summer League is just around the corner so they won’t have to wait a lot to face their first professional basketball test.