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Are Villanova players undervalued by NBA teams? We compare the performances of recent draft picks against the field. | Mike Jensen

Over the last five years, the Wildcats have provided a bunch of rotation stalwarts, the kind of ballplayers you need to win.

Will forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl be the latest Villanova player to be undervalued by the NBA?
Will forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl be the latest Villanova player to be undervalued by the NBA?Read moreMichael Conroy / AP

We’ve been here before too often. It’s time for the NBA draft, and Villanova has a player sure to be drafted … and likely to have a career that outperforms his draft order. If that turns out to be the case for Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, he’ll join an impressive list of former Wildcats stars in the league.

They aren’t All-Stars in the NBA. That’s not how it’s played out. Over the last five years, Villanova has simply provided a whole bunch of rotation stalwarts, the kind of ballplayers you need to win. We’ve pointed out before, for instance, if the 76ers had simply valued Villanova guys correctly, their rotation of the last half-decade would have been so much better for it.

Let’s break things down, looking at draft picks from Villanova since 2016, trying to analyze whether they’ve overperformed or underperformed their draft order. (We’ll skip free agents such as Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu.)

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Josh Hart: 30th pick, 2017

Go to advanced statistical analysis. If you look solely at win shares provided from 2017 draftees, Hart comes up 10th among the 30 first-round draft choices, despite being drafted 30th by the Los Angeles Lakers. He’s 11th in total minutes played among that group. He’s tied for 14th in total points and seventh in rebounds. Hart, who now plays for the Pelicans, was a steal.

Who blew it by not taking him? The Sixers for sure. They took Anžejs Pasečņiks, who has played 28 NBA games, none with the Sixers.

Hart’s curved grade: A-plus.

Mikal Bridges: 10th pick, 2018

He didn’t win an NBA title, but starting for the Phoenix Suns in this year’s Finals proved he’s exactly what you thought he could be in the NBA. A three-and-D guy, not a big three star but a fourth or fifth best player on even the best teams.

Statistically, Bridges stands out in his class, fourth in win shares among first-rounders, behind only Dallas Mavericks star Luka Dončić, Phoenix teammate Deandre Ayton, and Atlanta Hawks cornerstone Trae Young, all of whom were drafted in the top five. Minutes? Only the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Collin Sexton has played more among 2018 first-rounders.

Who blew it by not taking him? You can’t say the Sixers, since they did take him only to trade him on draft night. There’s a lot to consider with that trade since it ended up getting the Sixers a pick that became part of the Tobias Harris deal. Who definitely blew it by not taking Bridges was the Knicks, who took Kevin Knox ninth. His minutes have dwindled each year. A big miss.

Bridges’ curved grade: A-plus.

Donte DiVincenzo: 17th pick, 2018

DiVincenzo did win a title this season with Milwaukee, but it was like the one he was part of for Villanova in 2016. DiVincenzo was hurt for most of that season. Not in 2018, though. DiVincenzo proved he was NBA-ready by being named outstanding player of the Final Four.

As a pro, he’s proven himself, and started all 66 games he played this season, averaging 10.4 points. DiVincenzo is tied for ninth in first-round win shares and 11th in minutes played.

Who blew it by not taking him? We didn’t go into this exercise intending to crush the Sixers. We just can’t avoid it. If the Sixers had traded Bridges for DiVincenzo and a pick that helped get Harris, that trade might not live in draft trade infamy. Instead, the Sixers took Zhaire Smith one slot ahead of DiVincenzo (and two ahead of Lonnie Walker and three ahead of Kevin Huerter.) Whoops.

DiVincenzo’s curved grade: A.

Omari Spellman: 30th pick, 2018

So Spellman is the one Villanova first-rounder who hasn’t hit. He got in great shape at ‘Nova, won a title, got drafted by Atlanta, and lost some of that physical form, eventually moving to Golden State, and then getting traded to Minnesota and the Knicks, getting waived in January.

He’s in a different mold, a 6-foot-8 inside-out player, which is a tougher fit in the NBA. Spellman is such a savvy guy that you tend to believe what you hear, that he’s working hard to get back in the league, and there will be a payoff. So far, he’s 22nd in win shares among first-rounders, with 10 second-rounders also ahead of him.

Who blew it by not taking him? N/A

Spellman’s curved grade: We’ll pull our punches and say incomplete. (Stubbornly not ready to get off a 2018 assessment that Spellman could help a good rotation. So far we get a D on that assessment, maybe colored by the fact that Spellman was as thoughtful an interviewee as any Villanova player of the last decade.)

Jalen Brunson: 33rd pick, 2018

We’re back into the wildly underrated category. You knew that going into that draft, after Brunson was national player of the year in leading Villanova to the 2018 title. Who didn’t think he’d be a longtime rotation pro? His win shares for Dallas are tied for seventh among all 60 2018 draftees. With Dončić on the team, Brunson started only 12 games this season but averaged 12.6 points and 3.5 assists in 25 minutes.

Who blew it by not taking him? Let’s pick on the Nets here. They took Dzanan Musa with the 29th pick. His career win shares to date? Zero.

Brunson’s graded curve: A-plus.

Eric Paschall: 41st pick, 2019

This is an interesting one since Paschall made the all-rookie first team despite being chosen with the 11th pick of the second round. He’s a home run for the Warriors, with the most minutes played so far of anyone outside the top 23 choices. However, Paschall lost minutes this season and eventually fell out of Golden State’s rotation, with his defense called into question.

As a 6-foot-6 forward, defining a role gets tricky. Was he simply a good player on a bad team as a 2019-20 rookie? Can he prove to be a rotation stalwart for a playoff team, adding the value he always gave Villanova?

Who blew it by not taking him? Why did Sacramento take 6-foot-7 Justin James of Wyoming just ahead of him? Nothing to show for that.

Paschall’s graded curve: B. (An A as a rookie, more of a C this season.)

Saddiq Bey: 19th pick, 2020

The 19th pick but third in win shares and third in minutes played, and another all-rookie first-teamer. Can Bey keep producing and build off that eye-opening rookie season? Is he legit three-and-D guy in the Bridges mold? He’s a little different player, but that difference includes a great ability to see the court. Bey was a late-growth guy, a smallish guard when he hit high school.

Who blew it by not taking him? The Knicks took the hometown guy Obi Toppin with the eighth pick. Bey was better. Not just more productive. Better.

Bey’s graded curve: A. (Too soon to add the plus, although his first season earned it.)

Overall assessment

It’s crazy to quantify just how much Villanova players have been undervalued. You keep waiting to see adjustments by the NBA, as a collective entity, to stop trying for young home runs and go for sure-thing leadoff doubles.

So here comes Robinson-Earl, and maybe he’s got to answer similar frontcourt tweener questions as Spellman and Paschall. But if Robinson-Earl falls to the second round, it will look like another Brunson-type steal.

To be clear, you don’t draft players because of where they went to school. There are plenty of strong Villanova players from the last decade who never played a minute in the NBA. (JayVaughn Pinkston, Kris Jenkins, Phil Booth, etc.) But the guys who make it consistently outperform their draft order, and by more than one or two picks. The evidence just keeps growing.