The 2017 NBA Draft is rapidly approaching, and with the Combine in full swing in Chicago general managers and scouts are starting to zero in and target particular players they hope to land on June 22.
Since our first edition of this feature, Markelle Fultz has been No. 1 on the list and that’s exactly where he sits just six weeks from the NBA Draft. While he has remained in the top spot, there has been plenty of movement, especially toward the bottom of this top 20.
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Markelle Fultz, PG/SG, Washington, freshman
Last ranking: 1
This Draft has been hyped as one of the best in recent memory, so to sit at the pole position as the best prospect is a big deal. Fultz has improved as much as any player on this list over the past two and a half years and he hasn’t slowed down over the past year. Sure his Washington team struggled, but he still put up big numbers and was efficient, despite being the focal point of everyone’s defense. Fultz has tremendous size for the position, is an impressive athlete and has the combination of distributing and scoring that you look for in a modern-day point guard.
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Jayson Tatum, SF, Duke, freshman
Last ranking: 2
When you can score the way Tatum can, there’s a lot of value. Throw in his size (6-foot-8) and all around skill set and Tatum has the potential to be a multi-year NBA All-Star one day. Even entering high school, Tatum had an impressive scoring package and it’s only improved. Tatum has an elite work ethic to go with his plus size for the position, ball skills and improving jump shot from long range. He’s at his best out of the mid-post and hunting mid-range jumpers, but in time, Tatum is going to be a solid three-point threat.
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Josh Jackson, SF, Kansas, freshman
Last ranking: 3
You could make a case for Jackson at No. 2 because of his tremendous upside. At 6-foot-7, Jackson is an elite level athlete with the potential to be a lockdown perimeter defender. At Kansas, Jackson was a nightmare to defend because of how Bill Self utilized him at the four-spot. Among Jackson’s best attributes are his passing, overall competitive nature, rebounding and ability to make plays in transition. Jackson isn’t known for his shooting, but he shot an impressive 37.8 percent from three at Kansas.
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De'Aaron Fox, PG, Kentucky, freshman
Last ranking: 4
After Fox’s dominating performance down the stretch, including a head-to-head battle with Lonzo Ball, I opted to move Fox, a 6-foot-4 point guard, up to No. 4 in my previous Big Board. In most drafts, Fox would be the first lead guard selected, because of his quickness, athleticism, passing, potential as a defender and overall makeup. Fox is a competitive kid that fits with the modern NBA. He averaged 16.7 points, 4.6 assists and 4.0 rebounds a game at Kentucky.
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Lonzo Ball, PG, UCLA, freshman
Last ranking: 5
UCLA’s Ball is one of the more unique prospects/players that I’ve covered over the past 10 years. And truth be told, you could make a case that he’s the best passer that I’ve seen in that time. His vision, ability to put passes on the money and instincts are exceptional. Ball’s unselfish nature helped turn UCLA from a 15-win team to a 31-win team. He has impressive size for a lead guard and his shooting numbers were much improved during his freshman season compared to his senior year of high school.
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Jonathan Isaac, SF/PF, Florida State, freshman
Last ranking: 7
At this point, Isaac is still more prospect than finished product. He’s a heck of an upside play if that’s the route a general manager wants to go. Isaac averaged 12 points and 7.8 rebounds at Florida State. You won’t find many players at his size (6-foot-11) with the versatility, mobility and skill level that he’s equipped with. There’s reason to believe Isaac could spend time as a small forward in the NBA, but also will be very effective, especially when he gets stronger, as a face-up four-man.
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Dennis Smith, PG, NC State, freshman
Last ranking: 6
In some ways it feels like Smith is being slightly undervalued in this draft. Perhaps that has to do with the amount of talent at the point guard position in this crop. Regardless, Smith, at 6-foot-3, is impressive physically, as he not only has good size for the position, but a lightning-quick first step and explosive athleticism. Smith is a good passer, and also a talented scorer. He shot a respectable 36 percent from three, which was improved since high school, although was just 13-for-56 from mid-range this season, according to Synergy Sports.
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Lauri Markkanen, C/PF, Arizona, freshman
Last ranking: 8
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Markkanen go higher than this spot come draft day. When you can shoot the way Markkanen can at 7-feet tall, there’s a lot of value. They are by no means identical players, but Steve Novak has spent the past 15 years in the league because he has good size and is a terrific shooter (44.6 percent career 3-point average). At Arizona, Markkanen connected on 69 of 163 three-point attempts (42 percent) and can rip the nets from short, mid and long-range.
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Malik Monk, SG, Kentucky, freshman
Last ranking: 9
Kentucky’s Monk is in contention with Jayson Tatum as the best scorer in the lottery. Last season, Monk hit 104 three-pointers and shot just under 40 percent from three. In catch-and-shoot situations Monk was very good, connecting on 41.6 percent of his jump shots. But get this, Monk’s percentage was even better when he was guarded, according to Synergy Sports, making 43.2 percent of his contested jumpers. His numbers dipped some from mid-range, but he did make runners/floaters at an impressive clip. He’s undersized for the position, but his elite athleticism, potential as a defender and overall scoring package make him a surefire lottery pick.
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Frank Ntilikina, PG, Strasbourg
Last ranking: 12
I’ve written this in the past, but in many draft classes, Ntilikina could be the first point guard taken, which speaks to the depth at the position. Ntilikina played legit minutes in France’s Pro A division, as well as in the Champions League for Strasbourg. At 6-foot-5, Ntilikina has tremendous size for the position. He’s also equipped with speed and athletic ability. Where he’s improved over the last year is in the shooting department. In 57 games during the 2015-2016 season, Ntilikina was just 27.3 percent from three. Over 43 games in 2016-2017, Ntilikina has made 35 three-pointers at a 41.7-percent clip.
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Jarrett Allen, PF, Texas, freshman
Last ranking: 14
After averaging 13.4 points and 8.4 rebounds at Texas, I thought Allen was headed back for another college season. Instead the 6-foot-10 big man is headed to the draft and has a chance, although it’s not a guarantee, to be a lottery pick. At his size, Allen has a massive wingspan that stretches just under 7-foot-6, good mobility, athleticism and impressive instincts. Offensively, he has tools, including good hands and impressive touch, but he lacks polish and consistency. On post-ups this past season, Allen scored 33 baskets on 58 attempts. From short range he made 17 of 36 jump shot attempts, but was just 7 of 32 from mid- and long-range. Allen, 19, has an impressive makeup and he’s just scratching the surface of his potential.
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Zach Collins, PF, Gonzaga, freshman
Last ranking: 17
Heading into his freshman season, Collins wasn’t considered a one-and-done type prospect. Now some NBA executives, according to sources, would take him in the lottery if given the opportunity. In just 17 minutes a game, Collins averaged 10 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks a game. His per-40 stats go up to 22.5 points and 14.3 rebounds a game. At nearly 7-feet, Collins has feel on offense and was terrific on that end this past season. Collins scored on 49 of his 80 post-up attempts, plus was a combined 14-for-27 from mid-range and three this past season.
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Justin Patton, C, Creighton, freshman
Last ranking: 10
Patton, 19, has one of the more unique stories in the NBA Draft, as the 7-footer redshirted his freshman season. After a 12.9-point, 6.1-rebound season at Creighton, Patton opted to sign with an agent and he’s tracking as a top 20 pick in the draft. For his size, Patton has good length, runs the floor with ease and has a tremendous set of mitts. Patton has very good touch around the basket and showed impressive development on offense since his high school days, where he was ranked as a top 25 prospect on Scout. Patton scored on 53.5 percent of his post-up attempts, 69.4 percent as the pick-and-roll man, and connected on 8 of his 15 three-pointers on the season. There’s a lot of upside with Patton.
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Justin Jackson, SF, North Carolina, junior
Last ranking: 11
At this point, I think Jackson will be the first college upperclassman selected in the NBA Draft. A former top 10 prospect coming out of high school, Jackson needed time to develop in college and he did just that, showing improvement every season. During his junior year, Jackson particularly improved as a shooter, making 105 three-pointers. That improvement, to go with his size for position and skill level, changed Jackson’s potential as a prospect. Jackson averaged 18.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists as a junior at North Carolina.
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OG Anunoby, SF, Indiana, sophomore
Last ranking: 18
There was a lot of buzz surrounding Anunoby heading into his sophomore season. Unfortunately, he went down with a knee injury. Now the NBA Draft Combine and physicals are of the highest importance to Anunoby. He’s an intriguing prospect because of his physical gifts, rapid improvement and potential as a shot maker. Prior to his injury, Anunoby was a very good, fluid athlete. Anunoby has potential to be a good perimeter defender and also showed an ability to make shots from distance in his career. If Anunoby checks out, there’s a lot to like about him and his upside.
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Ike Anigbogu, PF, UCLA, freshman
Last ranking: 15
It’s going to take a GM that can project upside to take Anigbogu this high in the NBA Draft, but he’s oozing with potential and ability. Just 18 years old, Anigbogu stands 6-foot-10, has long arms, a strong, chiseled frame and impressive athletic ability. Anigbogu played just 13 minutes a game at UCLA this past season, but he flashed his defensive potential and rebounding nearly every time he touched the court. Anigbogu still lacks polish on offense, but his long-term upside is high.
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John Collins, PF, Wake Forest, sophomore
Last ranking: NR
As the college season wore on, Collins began to win over more and more NBA executives. The 19-year-old broke out during his sophomore season, averaging 19.2 points and 9.8 rebounds a game, which is up from 7.3 points and 3.9 rebounds as a freshman. Collins is a bouncy athlete that has a lot of promise as an offensive threat. To go with terrific hands and touch, Collins has scoring moves on the block, where he hit 91 field goals on 173 post-up attempts. But there’s still plenty of room for improvement, as he’s not much of a threat to shoot jump shots, but the makeup is there for him to add it to his arsenal.
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Terrance Ferguson, SG/SF, Adelaide
Last ranking: 19
Sometimes hiding yourself can be beneficial. Heck, just look at Thon Maker, who opted to play prep basketball, rather than college, before entering the draft and then was selected No. 10 overall. Ferguson chose to go to Australia instead of playing college basketball. In 30 games, Ferguson averaged 15 minutes a game, scoring 4.6 points and making just 21 of his 67 three-point attempts. All that said, there’s a lot to like about Ferguson as a prospect. At 6-foot-7, Ferguson is a good leaper, a lockdown perimeter defender and he’s a better shooter than his percentage in Australia suggests.
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Ivan Rabb, PF, California, sophomore
Last ranking: 16
I’m going against the grain on this one. Most NBA executives I spoke to have Rabb outside of the top 20, but I think there’s still plenty to like about the 6-foot-10 power forward, who likely would have been a lottery pick last year. Rabb has good length, mobility, athleticism and is a very good rebounder. Rabb recorded 17 double-doubles and averaged 14 points and 10.5 rebounds a game last season.
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Donovan Mitchell, SG, Louisville, sophomore
Last ranking: NR
The last spot on this list could go to a number of prospects. I went with Mitchell, but Luke Kennard, TJ Leaf, Hamidou Diallo and Isaiah Hartenstein were all under consideration. At 6-foot-3, Mitchell is a small shooting guard, but he’s a very good athlete with an impressively built frame. Mitchell can score it off the bounce, in transition and is a much-improved long-range shooter. As a freshman Mitchell shot 25 percent from three and made just 18. As a sophomore he shot better than 35 percent from three, knocking down 80 on the year. Mitchell will need to hone his ball skills and pick and roll reads, but there’s a chance he’ll be able to play some point down the road too.