5 biggest warning signs for an NBA Draft bust

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Feb 27, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Marquette Golden Eagles forward Henry Ellenson (13) drives for the basket during the first half against the Villanova Wildcats at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

From statistical red flags to troubling archetypes, let’s break down the five biggest warning signs for an NBA Draft bust.

The 2023 NBA Draft is only 10 days away. Hitting on a draft pick is far from a guarantee. In the 2010s, organizations like the Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns have found themselves consistently in the lottery due to stretches of poor draft selections.

History is a great teacher. So, let’s reflect on prior drafts and see what warning signs to look for in an NBA Draft bust.

Biggest warning signs for an NBA Draft bust: 5. Low-percentage “shooters”

Typically, NBA Draft prospects have a standout trait (shooting, playmaking, perimeter defense, etc.). However, over the years, some players have been labeled as “shooters”, despite a low shooting percentage in college or overseas. Scouts and/or analysts will argue in favor of their form, mechanics, and potential.

Some recent examples of this phenomenon include Henry Ellenson and R.J. Hunter. Ellenson was selected by the Detroit Pistons with the 18th overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. He was projected to be a stretch four/five in the NBA. USA Today gave the pick an A, writing the following:

“Ellenson had lottery potential, so the Pistons nabbing him with the 18th pick could turn out to be a steal. He’s big and he’s skilled from the outside — an ideal fit for today’s NBA.”

In his lone season at Marquette, Ellenson only shot 28.8 percent from 3. In conference play, that number dipped down to 26.3 percent. So, the shooting projection, albeit not impossible, was extremely optimistic. During his NBA career, he shot 33.6 percent from deep. In hindsight, too many expectations were thrust onto the young big man.

Meanwhile, the Boston Celtics selected Hunter with the 28th overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.

Hunter was a collegiate star. The two-time Sun Belt Player of the Year led No. 14 Georgia State to an upset victory over No. 3 Baylor in the 2015 NCAA Tournament.

Hunter was an erratic shooter. Throughout his college career, he attempted a staggering 7.2 3-pointers per game, and sometimes, it paid off. In 2013, he made 12 3-pointers against UTSA, which set a Sun Belt single-game record.

Still, the overall numbers were mixed. In his final season, he shot only 30.5 percent from deep. That season, his game log included many startling shooting performances; he hit either zero or one 3-pointer in 14 games. Considering his high volume of attempts, that number was concerning, but there were plenty of “signature Hunter” games, as well.

Yes, the efficiency was concerning. Nevertheless, it was not unreasonable to expect Hunter to be a capable shooter at the next level, but, like Ellenson, expectations were overblown. In their pre-draft profile, NBADraft.net called him “quite possibly [the] best pure shooter in college” and compared him to J.J. Redick.

In the NBA, Hunter shot only 29.5 percent from 3 and spent time with three different franchises. If you are banking on a first-round pick to be a great shooter, he should either already be an efficient shooter in college or have other standout traits.

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