Finding Value in the 2016 NBA Draft: Brice Johnson Might Be the Biggest Steal on Draft Night

The former Tar Heel is a proven commodity, so why is he being glanced over in favor of young talent?

As we inch even closer now to the 2016 NBA Draft, we'll be hearing more and more about guys rising and falling on team draft boards.

Brice Johnson is one one of those players. But, he's still not getting enough credit for such an impressive college career at Chapel Hill.

According to DraftExpress, Johnson is the 30th-best prospect in the draft, and they have him slated as the 31st overall pick in their latest mock draft. But, for a player who finished his last collegiate season -- in the ACC with a top program -- ranked sixth or better in Player Efficiency Rating (PER), Win Shares (WS), Win Shares per 40 minutes (WS/40), and Box Plus/Minus (BPM) it's surprising to see him as a borderline first-round pick.

It's even more surprising that other, less established players are expected to go so much earlier. One of those players is fellow power forward prospect, Deyonta Davis, out of Michigan State.

How do the two players' skill sets and production stack up?

Proven Abilities

In terms of what they've proven, particularly in the 2015-16 college basketball season, these two bigs -- both standing 6'11" -- are fairly similar.

Per-40-Minute Numbers Points Rebounds Blocks
Brice Johnson 24.2 14.8 2.1
Deyonta Davis 16.1 11.8 3.9

On a per-40-minute basis, the two were definitely comparable. Johnson has the edge in terms of points and rebounds, but Davis showed off his great athleticism, nearly doubling up Johnson's 2.1 blocks per 40 minutes.

When we dive deeper into the numbers, however, the differences between the two are certainly brought to light -- and not-so-surprisingly in favor of the experienced Johnson.

Brice Johnson33.00.2727.613.4
Deyonta Davis23.90.2043.310.8

Clearly, the former Tar Heel was much more efficient and even more valuable to Roy Williams and company than was the Freshman, Davis. The glaring separation between the two prospects is based almost entirely on Johnson's shot development.

While Davis' Effective Field Goal Percentage of 59.8% was just 1.6 points below Johnson's 61.4%, he struggled at the charity stripe, finishing the season 60.5% from the free throw line. Johnson, on the other hand, shot 78.3% from the line in his final collegiate season. Therein lies the nearly five-point difference between Johnson and Davis' respective True Shooting Percentages.

We can probably chalk this up to nothing but experience, as Johnson played three more years than the 19-year-old Davis. He had a lot of practice at Chapel Hill and sure had a lot more time to work out kinks in his shot.

And that -- experience and age -- is what the discrepancy in draft stock amounts to.

Future Outlook

First and foremost -- like it is for most sports franchises -- age is a giant factor in considering who to pick and at what position.

Johnson is turning 22 in a week, while Davis won't turn 20 until December. What does that tell NBA franchises?

On one side of the argument is what seems to be the prevailing view: athleticism, explosiveness, and potential can't be taught. Teams would rather shape the skills around a player's physical gifts.

On the other side, the losing end of the debate, is the argument that experience and development are crucial to having success quickly in the league.

The potential of Davis -- at 19 years old and with three fewer years of wear-and-tear on his legs -- is what teams seem to be focusing on, rather than the proven skill of a Brice Johnson. That's why Davis is 23 spots ahead of Johnson in Draft Express' Top 100 Prospects and why Davis is considered a surefire top-15 pick and Johnson isn't likely to go off the board until the beginning of the second round.

But, with Johnson's flashes of brilliance throughout his senior season, he shouldn't fall any further than the late first round. His production was great, and his skill set is proven. It would be crazy for a contending team like the Clippers (at 25), Spurs (at 29), or Warriors (at 30) to pass up on such a talent.

The fact that Davis -- an unproven, raw big man -- is likely to go at least 15 to 20 spots ahead of Johnson is beyond me. The emphasis on physical talent and age might be a little misleading here.

We'll have to wait and see if Johnson falls to a team like the three mentioned above. If he does, I'm sure that he could be a vital part of a playoff-caliber team in 2016-17 and in years to come.