What to make of 2017 NBA draft mystery man Terrance Ferguson

Terrance Ferguson is young and talented, but his ceiling at the NBA level remains an open question. Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

When 2016 five-star phenom Terrance Ferguson opted not to test the NCAA clearinghouse in an attempt to play college basketball, choosing instead to play professionally in Australia while awaiting NBA draft eligibility, he joined a short list of teenagers who have gone overseas in the one-and-done era.

The tactic has historically had its advantages and disadvantages, but contextualizing Ferguson's performance in the Aussie National Basketball League will be one of the primary difficulties for both NBA teams and their fans.

Luckily, there is some data that helps us evaluate who Ferguson is, and whom the 18-year-old might become.

Let's start by looking at Ferguson's tempo-free numbers within the NBL, which recently concluded its regular season:

None of these numbers immediately pops out as being exceptionally good. In 27 games, with over 400 minutes played, it's tough to argue Ferguson has been even a league-average player. Given Ferguson's 3-and-D mold at shooting guard, his true shooting percentage is particularly alarming. He didn't accumulate assists at a high rate, while turning the ball over at a particularly bad rate. He got 3s up at a good rate, but only made 32 percent of them.

By way of comparison, a couple of rookies who were in college last year, Ferguson's Adelaide 36ers teammate Majok Deng (Louisiana-Monroe) and Jameel McKay (Iowa State), were in the top half of the league from a box plus-minus perspective. Those guys are about five years older than Ferguson, but were never viewed as likely NBA draft candidates, as Ferguson is.

Putting up the worst possible defensive rebound percentage while also being league average at offensive rebound percentage speaks well of Ferguson's rebounding potential. Clearly, there is an emphasis here on the offensive glass, one probably dictated by his role on the team.

Overall, the numbers don't suggest Ferguson is currently even close to an average player relative to the league. That said, moving halfway around the world to play against grown men is logically going to be tough for any 18-year-old.

Fortunately for us, another Dallas-area player and former high school teammate followed a similar path to Ferguson before becoming a lottery pick: Emmanuel Mudiay, who offers another avenue for comparison.


Before Mudiay was drafted seventh overall in 2015, he played in the Chinese Basketball Association for the Guangdong Southern Tigers. Although Ferguson is a 3-and-D player while Mudiay was more of a combo guard as a prospect (and is now a point guard in the NBA), it's worth noting that the two players have similar height, weight, and wingspan.

ESPN analyst and international basketball expert Fran Fraschilla has the NBL and the CBA as the 10th and 12th-best leagues in the world outside the NBA, respectively. Both limit non-domestic talent to only two international players per team, and both play around 30 regular season games. Maybe there is a domestic talent disparity between the two leagues, but it's fair to say they are quite similar.

Let's look at the impact Mudiay had in his one, injury-plagued shortened season with the Guangdong Southern Tigers.

Even though Mudiay only played in 10 games, it's clear here that he was an impact player when he was on the court. As a point guard Mudiay posted the third-best assist rate and 10th-best BPM in the league. He did it on high usage as well, while not being too far below league average on turnover percentage.

Seeing Mudiay's impact in China, in contrast to Ferguson's limited role in Australia, is worthy of concern.


There are other data points to evaluate, though. Ferguson is one of the few players to play in a top-level AAU shoe circuit at the under-17 level for three years, appearing in 33 games. Here's a look at how Ferguson's AAU numbers compared to three current college players -- Louisville star Donovan Mitchell, solid USC starter Bennie Boatwright and Michigan State role player Matt McQuaid. McQuaid and Mitchell are both shooting guards of similar stature to Ferguson, while Boatwright is a 6-foot-10, 230-pound power forward. We used these players because they are the closest single-season statistical matches to Ferguson within AAU.

These comparisons provide some context to Ferguson's game, as his role changed in each season. His best overall year was his first, where he clearly was a scorer and was playing up against players two years older. In his second season, Ferguson apparently took on a larger role. His usage rate increased by more than double his first year, but his true shooting percentage dipped in addition to his 3-point attempt rate. Note the increase in his defensive rebound rate as well. Ferguson's final season seems to fall somewhere in the middle of his first two seasons, blending the shooting and defensive rebounding that he excelled at in his first and second years, respectively. A look at Ferguson's basic box score numbers seems to verify this:

While this is a supposedly deep draft, it's also point-guard heavy. Ferguson is the first pure shooting guard taken in Chad Ford's latest mock draft, and that might speak to the scarcity of talent at that position. Other potentially available shooting guards include Louisville's Mitchell, Villanova's Josh Hart and Duke's Luke Kennard, who has seen his stock soar this year. Those players are all at least a year older than Ferguson, but have played at least two seasons of college. Ferguson's projected draft position speaks to NBA GMs' emphasis when evaluating prospects. Molding a young talented player with great physical traits is often more desirable to selecting a player who's a year or two older but has proven himself in the spotlight.

Ferguson has assumed different roles throughout his young basketball career, and it should be noted that including his time in Australia, he's basically been "playing up" a league his whole life. In any statistical deep dive, you're not going to arrive at an answer that is 100 percent accurate with 100 percent confidence. The goal here is to provide an additional perspective that can't be gained by watching a player in person, working him out, or talking to him and the people around him.

The reality is, when looking at how Ferguson compares to peers, nothing sticks out as particularly exceptional. Only time will tell whether some of the more alarming metrics can be chalked up to a lack of experience. GMs will have to weigh the numbers versus Ferguson's potential, and hope they find the right balance.

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