Dec 17, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard Malik Monk (5) celebrates after the Wildcats defeated the North Carolina Tar Heels 103-100 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
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The 2017 NBA Draft ranks amongst the most promising in recent history. Which prospects have separated themselves as the country’s elite entering February?
The 2017 NBA Draft projects to be one of the most influential in league history. Contemporary changes to playing styles and positional roles are being reflected in a class with a talent level that has drawn incomparable praise.
With a new year upon us, the time has come to evaluate the top prospects and how well they may fit at the next level.
The 2017 NBA Draft is overrun by point guards who project to facilitate the growth of a golden era at the position. Between explosive athletes, dynamic playmakers, and phenomenal scorers, the point guards in this draft class border on evolutionary.
At other positions, the talent wave continues with players who possess legitimate All-NBA and All-Star potential.
Due to the fact that the 2016-17 NBA regular season is still in progress, team needs are not yet being accounted for. Instead, it’s a matter of ranking the players in the 2017 NBA Draft and determining where they best fit at the next level.
The question is: who are the best players in the 2017 NBA Draft and why should you care about their upside?
Jan 23, 2017; Durham, NC, USA; North Carolina State Wolfpack head coach Mark Gottfried talks with guard Dennis Smith Jr. (4) on the sidelines in the first half of their game against the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports
1. Dennis Smith Jr., North Carolina State Wolfpack
Dennis Smith Jr. has recovered from a torn ACL during his high school years to become one of the best players in college basketball. Standing at roughly 6’3″ with a strong frame and explosive athleticism, Smith’s game is a sight to behold.
There are still areas of Smith’s game in which he must improve, but he has the killer instinct and natural leadership ability to be a superstar in the NBA.
Smith’s bread and butter is getting out in transition and creating havoc for opposing defenses with his finishing ability and playmaking. He’s also a skilled pick and roll player who can come off of screens and either make runs at the rim, pull up for jump shots, or find the dive man.
Smith also has elite defensive potential with his lateral quickness, explosive athleticism, and active hands in the passing lanes.
On a team with limited depth, Smith has still managed to step up with massive performances in big games. Were he surrounded by a team with NBA-caliber talent, he could be the transcendent playmaker who elevates a team to postseason-caliber play.
Smith has the ceiling of a legitimate NBA superstar and the raw ability to be a starting-caliber role player, which makes him a surefire Top 5 prospect.
Dec 11, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies guard Markelle Fultz (20) calls a play against the Nevada Wolf Pack during the second half at Alaska Airlines Arena at Hec Edmundson Pavilion. Nevada defeated Washington, 87-85. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
The Washington Huskies are 9-12 and well on their way to missing the 2016 NCAA Tournament. It would be the sixth consecutive season that Lorenzo Romar and the Huskies missed out out on reaching the NCAA Tournament.
The Huskies’ poor play as a team hasn’t completely damaged Markelle Fultz’s draft stock, but for a player who’s projected to elevate a franchise, it’s somewhat concerning.
True as that all may be, Fultz has essentially become the Ben Simmons of the 2017 NBA Draft. He’s one of the most well-rounded players in the country and still projects to have elite upside at the next level.
Fultz is a dynamic slasher, lethal 3-point shooter, high-quality rebounder and defender, and a phenomenal facilitator.
Fultz has all of the tools to be an elite player at just under 6’5″ with a 6’9″ wingspan and a tremendous skill set. His free throw shooting is a concern, but he’s the type of talent whom many organizations would love to have.
I’m still uneasy about Fultz’s rigid movement and the impact that could have on his knees, but he’s essentially a 6’5″ Chris Paul from an upside perspective.
January 8, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins guard Lonzo Ball (2) controls the ballagainst the Stanford Cardinal during the second half at Pauley Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Lonzo Ball is the latest UCLA Bruins point guard to be highly-regarded in the NBA Draft process. Following in the footsteps of the likes of Darren Collison and Russell Westbrook, Ball has a chance to be one of the best players in this draft class.
With a remarkably balanced skill set and the size to be a dominant force at point guard, Ball has a chance to be an elite NBA player.
Ball’s versatility includes tremendous court vision, elite size, the ability to rebound at a high level, and range on his outside shot. If nothing else works out for him, however, his translatable skill will be his ability to facilitate.
Ball’s ability to not only create shots for himself, but for others, is what will help him make the leap to the NBA and find his role.
The advantage that Ball has over players like Michael Carter-Williams is that he’s already a strong 3-point shooter. He can space the floor with considerable distance and range on his shot, and has the potential to be an outstanding defender.
Ball has the ability to play both with and without the ball, which is the type of versatility that every coach and general manager dreams of.
Jan 23, 2017; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Jayson Tatum (0) reacts after making a three point shot against the North Carolina State Wolfpack in the first half at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports
After struggling with inefficiency early in his collegiate career, Jayson Tatum has begun to find stability. He’s still not playing up to the standard of a potentially elite scorer, but he’s unselfish and proving to be willing to change his role if it means helping the team.
Coupled with the fact that Tatum is defending at a much higher level than what was expected of him, it’s hard not to be intrigued by the mental details.
Tatum’s willingness to defend and crash the boards is a sign that he’s willing to do what his team asks of him. That’s an imperative truth for a player who thinks like a scorer, but isn’t afraid to expend energy in other areas.
Most score-first players struggle to preserve energy for other facets of the game, but Tatum is learning how to do so at Duke.
True as that all may be, the reason Tatum is garnering Top 10 hype is his uncanny ability to put points on the board. His 3-point shot has been somewhat flat, but he has a smooth midrange game and the ability to go to the post and score against players at multiple positions.
Tatum has a lot of Carmelo Anthony in his game. If he measures well at the combine, that upside could make him a Top 5 draft pick.
Jan 18, 2017; Tallahassee, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles forward Jonathan Isaac (1) drives against Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Austin Torres (1) during the second half at the Donald L. Tucker Center. Mandatory Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports
Jonathan Isaac needs to bulk up in order to live up to his potential at the next level. He’s a physically gifted individual, but at 205 pounds and without the adequate level of lower or upper body strength, there’s only so much he’ll be able to do against grown men in the NBA.
If Isaac commits to a methodical plan to gain weight, solidify his core, and increase his weight and strength from the bottom up, however, he can be the best player in this draft class.
Isaac needs polish on offense, but he has veteran moves that he’s more than capable of pulling out at the collegiate level. His jab step leads to a lethal jump shot that includes 3-point range, and his ability to shoot off the catch is one of his most appealing abilities.
What truly makes Isaac special, however, is the fact that he’s shown signs of being able to split screens, pass over defenders, and utilize ball fakes to create driving lanes.
On the other end of the floor, Isaac does a solid job of moving his feet and contesting shots put up against him. He’s shown an eagerness to defend against high-quality opponents and has the size and length to be a disruptive force on that end of the floor.
Isaac is more upside than anything else, but the signs of potentially elite play have already presented themselves during his freshman season.
Jan 24, 2017; Morgantown, WV, USA; Kansas Jayhawks guard Josh Jackson (11) drives towards the basket during the first half against the West Virginia Mountaineers at WVU Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports
Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks are developing yet another elite athlete at a perimeter position. Following in the footsteps of 2015 NBA Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins, Josh Jackson is a moldable player who can be as good as he wants to be.
Regardless of which position Jackson ends up playing, what’s clear is that he’s something special from a pure talent perspective.
The advantage that Jackson has over Wiggins is that he’s already proven to be a strong passer who sees the floor well from that perspective. He’s also shown flashes of being a quality 3-point shooter when his feet are set.
Jackson’s free throw shooting is unforgivably poor, but he appears to be a team player who takes coaching and is willing to do what it takes to realize his true potential.
Jackson has the athleticism and size to be a small forward, but he’d be better off at the 2 at the next level. He’d be able to exploit advantages over smaller defenders and use his size, strength, and vision as a passer to help dictate the pace of the offense.
Regardless of which position he ends up playing, one would be hard-pressed to find a 2017 prospect with more upside than Jackson.
Jan 3, 2017; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard De’Aaron Fox (0) dribbles the ball against Texas A&M Aggies forward Tonny Trocha-Morelos (10) in the second half at Rupp Arena. Kentucky defeated Texas A&M 100-58. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
De’Aaron Fox is a fixed jump shot away from being the best point guard in the 2017 NBA Draft. That’s a significant flaw that inevitably hurts his draft stock, but if Fox can stabilize his shooting form, he can be an absolute stud.
Fox carries his weight on both ends of the floor and has the elite athleticism that could make him an instant impact player as a transition playmaker.
Fox’s erratic jump shot will hurt him, as that very flaw has caused players such as Michael Carter-Williams and Rajon Rondo to fall short of their true potential. That could be a rational fear amongst NBA general managers.
The upside is tremendous, however, and there will be a team that’s willing to take a chance on Fox being willing to put in the work to develop a jump shot.
Fox has the creativity as a ball-handler and a finisher to consistently get to the rim and put points on the board. He’s also explosive in transition and can go from end-to-end with the type of speed that few will be able to contain.
Fox’s scoring instincts give him a leg up on some of the non-shooters who came before him, but he’ll need to develop a consistent jump shot to make his pick and roll proficiency translate.
Jan 21, 2017; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard Malik Monk (5) dribbles the ball against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the second half at Rupp Arena. Kentucky defeated South Carolina 85-69. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
If any member of the 2017 NBA Draft class is going to win a scoring title, Malik Monk could be the one who does so. He’s a transcendent athlete with speed and all-time leaping ability, as well as a lights-out shooter who can penetrate and get to the rim.
There may be some questions pertaining to which position he’ll play at the next level, but let’s not pretend point guards are still tremendous facilitators in the modern NBA.
Monk has a smooth stroke from beyond the arc and he isn’t afraid to get his shot off against taller defender. He has the handles to create space, as well as the willingness and IQ to work without the ball and come off of screens to find openings.
Monk still has work to do as a facilitator, but he does a strong job of recognizing opportunities to find teammates when driving and dishing.
When all else fails, Monk has a 42.0″ max vertical leap and the speed to get out in transition and exploit a lazy defense. The point of contention is his wingspan, which has been reported as 6’3.5″, 6’6″, and 6’7.”
If Monk measures well at the combine, then he could be one of the candidates for the No. 1 pick as an elite athlete with top-flight scoring potential.
When a true point guard stands at 6’5″, it’s all but inevitable that NBA scouts and general managers will take notice. When said player is showing signs of being able to space the floor with a 3-point shot, the interest will spike.
There are still concerns pertaining to whether or not he can make it work in the NBA, but Frank Ntilikina appears to be destined for a Top 10 selection in 2017.
Ntilikina has shown flashes of legitimate star potential throughout his career in the European system. The statistics may not always show it, but that’s a product of the structure that includes favoring older players based on precedent.
What Ntilikina has accomplished in international play, however, has been more than enough for teams to be encouraged and intrigued.
Ntilikina dominated the FIBA U18 European Championship en route to MVP honors for the event. He was also honored as France’s Best Young Player—an award won by the likes of Nicolas Batum, Clint Capela, Boris Diaw, Evan Fournier, Ian Mahinmi, and Tony Parker.
The upside is real and the skill set is intriguing, which makes Ntilikina one of the Top 10 prospects at this point in the season.
Jan 29, 2017; Tucson, AZ, USA; Arizona Wildcats forward Lauri Markkanen (10) shoots the ball as Washington Huskies forward Sam Timmins (33) defends during the second half at McKale Center. Arizona won 77-66. Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports
Lauri Markkanen isn’t receiving enough recognition for the dominant level he’s playing at on the offensive end of the floor. He’s scoring and producing at legitimately absurd levels for a 20-2 Arizona Wildcats team that could win the national title.
In an era during which big men who can shoot are as valuable as ever before, Markkanen could be a special player in the NBA.
Markkanen has made 54 3-point field goals in 22 games and is shooting 50.5 percent from beyond the arc. That’s an unprecedented level of volume and efficiency for a player his size, and would be elite for even the best of guards.
A 7’0″ big man from Finland who can crash the offensive boards and finish strong above the rim, Markkanen has the upside of a legitimate star.
Markkanen’s flaws are on the defensive end of the floor, where he’s essentially all size and minimal fundamental impact. He’s a tremendous pick and pop player who moves well without the ball and stretches the floor.
Markkanen could be a star or he could be Mirza Teletovic, but either way, a respectable work ethic would all but guarantee him a place on an NBA team.
Nov 23, 2016; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Edrice Bam Adebayo (3) shoots the ball against the Cleveland State Vikings in the first half at Rupp Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
When evaluating Kentucky Wildcats players, one must keep in mind how deep John Calipari’s crew is. In other words: don’t get too caught up on numbers when attempting to discern whether or not a player is proficient in one area or another.
In the case of Edrice Bam Adebayo, the numbers fail to display the physical dominance that he’s capable of in the modern NBA.
Adebayo has broad shoulders, a muscular frame, and an explosive 40″ max vertical leap. He’s already made his mark as one of the best offensive rebounders in the country and has the tools to be an elite rim protector.
Part of what makes Adebayo such an alluring prospect is that he’s incredibly agile for a man who carries 258 pounds of muscle around with him.
From a physical perspective, Adebayo is loosely comparable to what Dwight Howard was when he entered the NBA. He has a shorter wingspan, which is undoubtedly significant, but in this era, Adebayo is the type of player who could make a living by dominating defensively.
The fact that Adebayo is capable of knocking down the occasional midrange jump shot implies that he could be develop into a force on the other end, as well.
Jan 19, 2017; Eugene, OR, USA; Oregon Ducks forward Roman Sorkin (41) and Oregon Ducks forward Chris Boucher (25) defend as California Golden Bears forward Ivan Rabb (1) dribbles the ball in the first half at Matthew Knight Arena. Mandatory Credit: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports
Ivan Rabb has a lot of Chris Bosh in both his game and his upside as a future NBA player. He has the size and length to make his mark, as well as the mental strengths that helped Bosh carve out a memorable career.
Rabb is by no means slow or un-athletic, but the strength of his game is being able to play the angles and find the openings that few at the college level see.
Rabb has the basketball IQ to be an off-ball scoring threat, as well as a pick and roll finisher who can interpret when to dive and when to fade and shoot the open J. He anticipates his point guard’s movements and reads defenders well.
That ability to position himself to receive passes is also what makes him a special rebounder—the same trait Andre Drummond displayed at UConn.
Rabb still needs to bulk up and get to a weight that fits his style of play at the next level. He uses glass when finishing inside, however, and has shown signs of being a willing post player who is now learning to space the floor from 3-point range.
Rabb is still developing his jump shot, but his work ethic has been revered by his coaches and, forgive the cliche, his ceiling is as high as he wants it to be.
The best way to describe Rabb: he’s a Spurs-ian type of big man.
Jan 7, 2017; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Harry Giles (1) dunks the ball against Boston College Eagles during the first half of their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports
Any team that drafts Harry Giles will be doing so with knowledge of how risky a selection it is. Giles suffered multiple severe knee injuries—ACL, MCL, and meniscus tears—before his college career could even begin.
It’s entirely possible that Giles will work past the injuries and find his calling as an NBA superstar, but it’s almost impossible to ignore the risks.
Giles is an outstanding rebounder who’s as fundamentally polished as any projected lottery pick. He uses the glass when he finishes, boxes out down low, and does an excellent job of getting behind the defense with his movement without the ball.
He can still get up and play above the rim, but any player whose knees have been through what Giles’ have will carry red flags.
Giles’ numbers are relatively meaningless due to the fact that he didn’t resume practicing until December. He made his season debut in January and is in the process of going through the motions to get his feet back under him.
Here’s hoping we’ll see glimpses of Giles’ true potential once Duke starts playing its biggest games in March and April.
Jan 29, 2017; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans guard Miles Bridges (22) reacts to a play during the first half of a game against the Michigan Wolverines at the Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
The Michigan State Spartans have a tendency to produce versatile players who can wear many faces in the NBA. Draymond Green and Denzel Valentine are the most recent examples of what Tom Izzo can do to help players develop.
The Spartans have a new force to be reckoned with in Miles Bridges, but one question beckons: will he actually fit in the NBA?
Bridges plays like a power forward, but does so as a 6’6″ player with a 6’9″ wingspan. Even in an era of small-ball, he could have a hard time playing power forward due to his small stature and relatively short wingspan.
Bridges can shoot the 3-ball well, handles the ball at an adequate level, and defends multiple positions, however, and that makes him an intriguing individual.
Bridges puts his head down and drives to the basket in a physically overwhelming way that can translate to the next level. He’s also the type of rebounder who boxes out opponents and makes it possible for his teammates to corral boards.
Bridges has been loosely compared to Charles Barkley, but his positional ambiguity is working somewhat against him.
Dec 17, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Hoosiers center Thomas Bryant (31) reacts to a basket in the second half of the game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Butler beat Indiana 83-78. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Though some remain skeptical, I still view Thomas Bryant as a player who could be a cornerstone of an NBA organization. He’s comparable to Andrew Bynum from a physical perspective, but has a passion for the game that no one can question.
With elite physical gifts and a hunger for glory, Bryant is the type of player whom a general manager could groom to anchor a team for years to come.
Bryant’s size, strength, and near 7’6″ wingspan are enough to overwhelm even the best of defenders. When he’s fearless and throws his body around the interior, the only player who can stop him is himself.
Thus far in 2016-17, Bryant has shown an occasional willingness to do so, all the while expanding his range to beyond the 3-point line.
Bryant’s improved shooting range is what will ultimately define his success at the next level. He doesn’t need to be Ryan Anderson, but Bryant’s ability to knock down an open jump shot will prevent teams from being able to play off of him when the ball is moving around the perimeter.
Bryant will be a quality contributor if he lands in the average situation, but he can be a standout player if he lands with a team that’s willing to be patient and push him to impose his will.
Dec 17, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Hoosiers forward OG Anunoby (3) shoots the ball while Butler Bulldogs forward Andrew Chrabascz (45) defends in the first half of the game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Indiana Hoosiers small forward OG Anunoby suffered a season-ending right knee injury on Wednesday, Jan. 18. He underwent surgery on Friday, Jan. 20 and will now look to recover by the start of next season.
The question is: will Anunoby be aiming to recover by the start of the 2017-18 college basketball season or the 2017-18 NBA regular season?
Before his injury, Anunoby had the makings of a legitimately elite defensive player at the next level. His combination of size, strength, length, and athleticism was intriguing enough, but his defensive fundamentals created inevitable intrigue.
In the wake of his severe injury, however, it’s fair to question how Anunoby fits into the NBA draft cycle and the Association as a whole.
Players have returned from knee injuries on a number of occasions, but there’s nothing available to scouts but reason for hope. There’s no telling what type of player Anunoby will be at the next level, nor what he’ll be physically capable of once he returns.
Anunoby remains relatively high on this list due to his undeniable upside, but the question marks are real and valid.
Jan 23, 2017; Austin, TX, USA; Texas Longhorns forward Jarrett Allen (31) shoots against Oklahoma Sooners forwards Kadeem Lattin (12) during the first half at the Frank Erwin Center. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports
Texas Longhorns head coach Shaka Smart appears to have found his interior anchor in freshman Jarrett Allen. Though he’s not listed as a lottery pick, Allen has the combination of upside and immediate value that’s tough to pass over.
Whichever team lands Allen in the 2017 NBA Draft will be securing a future with one of the most alluring athletes in this class.
Allen stands at 6’11” with a near 7’6″ wingspan, which is reason enough to value his upside on both ends of the floor. He has the combination of size and length that permits him to become an elite team defender and shot-blocker.
Allen is essentially this year’s version of Myles Turner in the sense that his upside is clear as day, but he hasn’t fully lived up to the hype.
Coupled with Allen’s standing reach of nearly 9’3″, the Longhorns star has the physical gifts to decimate the opposition. Thus far in 2016-17, he’s displayed the athleticism to run the floor, play above the rim, and operate through the pick and roll.
Allen also has an acceptable midrange game, a la Turner, which only strengthens his case for being a potential lottery pick.
Jan 25, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Creighton Bluejays center Justin Patton (23) dunks the ball as Georgetown Hoyas forward Akoy Agau (22) looks on in the second half at Verizon Center. The Hoyas won 71-51. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
No player has experienced as meteoric a rise up draft boards as Creighton Bluejays center Justin Patton. He’s not necessarily an elite athlete, but he moves well, plays from the post, blocks shots, and represents a throwback to yesteryear.
With untapped potential and the bare skills to be one of the better big men in this draft class, Patton is proof that interior players haven’t gone out of style.
What makes Patton so intriguing is how decisive he is when he backs his man down from the low or mid post areas. He knows how to put his shoulder into an opponent, but he also has remarkable footwork for a college freshman.
He knows how to turn the corner on his man when playing from the post and has secondary moves when the opposition anticipates his first attempt.
Patton’s passing ability helps make up for the fact that he doesn’t yet have the range to stretch a defense. He’s not rebounding or defending at elite levels, but has shown the ability to elevate the level at which his teammates perform.
Patton appears to be built in the same mold as players such as Brook Lopez and Jahlil Okafor, which isn’t a bad thing.
Jan 24, 2017; Syracuse, NY, USA; Syracuse Orange forward Tyler Lydon (20) shoots the ball over Wake Forest Demon Deacons guard Keyshawn Woods (1) during the second half at the Carrier Dome. The Orange won 81-76. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Stretch forward Tyler Lydon made a name for himself during the Syracuse Orange’s magical run to the Final Four in 2016. He put forth a strong freshman season overall, but it was March Madness that enabled him to break out as an NBA prospect.
Thus far in 2016-17, Lydon has followed that breakout effort with yet another tremendous display of his well-rounded game and potential.
Lydon is a nightly double-double threat who can space the floor with one of the prettiest shots in college basketball and block shots on defense. It’s quite the combination of skills for a player who also possesses intriguing athleticism and the ability to play above the rim.
Lydon continuously proves that to be true, but here’s video evidence for those who doubt his ability to get up and finish:
Lydon has all of the tools that you look for in a power forward, but he continues to be underrated. He isn’t a great rebounder, but he can alter shots at the rim, shoots the lights out, play inside, and run the floor in transition.
The zone defense that he’s been hidden by continues to cast doubt over his defensive capabilities, but Lydon has the tools to be an effective NBA player.
Jan 24, 2017; Knoxville, TN, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard Isaiah Briscoe (13) drives around Tennessee Volunteers guard Robert Hubbs III (3) during the first half at Thompson-Boling Arena. Tennessee defeated Kentucky 82-80. Mandatory Credit: Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports
Isaiah Briscoe’s freshman season with the Kentucky Wildcats was far from ideal. His dreadful jump shot destroyed his draft stock and prevented him from realizing his potential as a point guard within John Calipari’s system.
Although Briscoe hasn’t exactly become an elite shooter, the progress he’s made is a testament to how powerful his work ethic is—and that’s why he’s a Top 30 prospect.
Briscoe finished the 2015-16 season with per 40 averages of 11.9 points and 3.9 assists on a slash line of .439/.135/.460. In 2016-17, he’s averaging 18.3 points and 5.7 assists per 40 minutes on a slash line of .487/.382/.720.
Briscoe has improved by 4.8 percent from the field, 24.7 percent from 3-point range, and 26.0 percent from the free throw line—and that’s from one offseason of work
Those drastic changes are a sign of just how far Briscoe has come as a player. Already an elite ball-handler who could facilitate the offense and defend multiple positions, he’s no longer a liability with his jump shot or his free throw shooting.
Everyone wants to talk upside, but the 1b to that 1a is work ethic. Briscoe is clearly willing to put the work in to be the player that an NBA team needs him to be.
Isaiah Hartenstein has garnered hype in NBA draft circles due to his combination of height and shooting proficiency. He’s a 7’0″ power forward who isn’t the best athlete, but plays a game that fits the standards of a stretch 4.
I’m not quite as high on Hartenstein as others, but in a draft class with a Top 25 that’s flush with high-level talent, he deserves to be included.
Hartenstein is an aggressive player who tends to play out of control, but has the killer instinct that teams look for. There’s no telling if he’ll be able to live up to the hype, but it’s hard to find players who are as fearless as Hartenstein.
Given his size and versatile skill set, that’s all but certain to yield some measure of lottery hype come June.
Hartenstein has a solid shooting stroke, runs the floor well, and has no trouble finishing above the rim. He throws down hard and has the potential to be a shot-blocker, although he hasn’t yet developed in that regard.
Hartenstein plays with a chip on his shoulder, but his somewhat erratic nature as a player will create cause for concern.
Jan 28, 2017; Morgantown, WV, USA; Texas A&M Aggies forward Robert Williams (44) backs down West Virginia Mountaineers forward Nathan Adrian (11) during the second half at WVU Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports
The Texas A&M Aggies sent an elite shot-blocker and rebounder to the NBA in 2008: DeAndre Jordan. Nine years later, another elite shot-blocker with a ridiculous wingspan could follow in Jordan’s footsteps.
While Jordan was a second-round draft pick in 2008, 2016-17 freshman Robert Williams has a chance to be a lottery pick.
Williams stands at just under 6’9″, but he has a massive 7’4″ wingspan and is a legitimately elite shot-blocker. He’s averaging 4.1 blocks per 40 minutes and is doing so with a positive differential in blocks to personal fouls.
Williams will need to diversify his offensive game to play power forward in the NBA, but his length, leaping ability, and relentlessness make him the perfect small-ball center
Williams must improve the consistency with which he boxes out as a defensive rebounder, but he competes on the offensive glass. He’s also shown some signs of being a quality passer, which is a desirable offensive skill.
Williams will need to develop a stronger offensive game, but in terms of his rebounding and shot-blocking, he’s as impressive as any prospect in this draft class.
January 21, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins forward TJ Leaf (22) dunks to score a basket against the Arizona Wildcats during the second half at Pauley Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
T.J. Leaf has the potential to be a special player if he’s coached and developed in the right way. The best option for him would be to remain in college for at least one more season, as it would enable him to further polish his skill set before having his NBA role defined too early.
Leaf could be a franchise centerpiece if he were to develop his skill set and work his way into the role of a star, but it would be hard to fault him for coming out after his freshman season.
Leaf is a smooth shooter, strong rebounder, and intriguing post player who plays the ultimate team game on offense. His primary gift, however, is his uncanny ability to make passes at angles that most don’t even think of attempting.
Leaf has the chance to be a star-level talent if he takes the time to polish his game and develop, but even in his current state, he can be a high-level role player.
Leaf is the shining example of why many want players to spend more time with college coaches who will focus specifically on developing their game. In the NBA, Leaf would be thrust into the slot of a role player and would likely receive limited playing time due to his lackluster defense.
Leaf can help any team he’s drafted to, but I’d like to see him end up with a coaching staff that values his star potential, as well as his role player contributions.
Mar 28, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; McDonalds All-American forward Terrance Ferguson dunks during the McDonalds All-American Powerade Jamfest at the Chicago Theatre. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Terrance Ferguson caught the basketball world by surprise when he announced that he would play the 2016-17 season overseas. Despite being in line to be the next great Arizona Wildcats star, he chose to play professionally for the Adelaide 36ers in Australia’s National Basketball League.
Though he may not be making his name at the University of Arizona, Ferguson remains one of the most intriguing prospects in this draft class.
Ferguson is an explosive athlete with impressive end-to-end speed and an awe-inspiring vertical leap. That alone will earn him notoriety of some measure if he attends the 2017 NBA Draft Combine and measure as he’s expected to.
As for his game, Ferguson has the potential to be a knockdown jump shooter with the added benefit of elite athleticism.
The best comparison for Ferguson may be Toronto Raptors swingman Terrence Ross. He may be thin and lanky, but he knows how to utilize his athleticism to not only attack in transition, but find openings as a shooter.
Ferguson’s pure upside will turn heads and could potentially earn him the opportunity to be a lottery pick in 2017.
Spain’s Liga ACB has become a hotbed for NBA-caliber talent. The numbers may not always jump off the page, but that’s due in large part to the structure of the European system and the honor system, of sorts, that allows older players to consume big minutes.
One of the players on Spain’s second-most decorated team, FC Barcelona, could be a lottery pick come 2017.
Rodions Kurucs aims to play in the NBA, which he has the size, athleticism, and competitiveness to do. He uses his body well when working along the interior and is a big target when running in transition and working the baseline.
Kurucs also has range on his jump shot, but the appeal in him as a prospect is about more than just the skills he possesses.
Kurucs has a level of confidence that’s tough to find in young players who are looking to develop and make the leap to the NBA. He isn’t yet as polished as he needs to be, but he’s found his place as one of the more promising prospects in this draft class.
Kurucs is playing most of his games with Barcelona’s second-tier team, but he’s made his name on all stages of play.
Jan 28, 2017; Reno, NV, USA; Nevada Wolf Pack forward Cameron Oliver (0) holds up three finger is celebration after making a three point shot against New Mexico Lobos in the second half of their NCAA basketball game at Lawlor Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports
The Nevada Wolfpack play home to a sophomore power forward who has a chance to make an impact in the NBA. Though Cameron Oliver may not be a household name, he has the tools to be one of the true gems of this deep draft class.
Skilled offensively, tantalizing athletically, and promising defensively, Oliver could end up being a starter at the next level.
Oliver has great hands and a strong frame, which should help him as a pick and roll player in the NBA. He also has legitimate 3-point range on his jump shot, which creates pick and pop opportunities to exploit.
Oliver can make a living as a corner 3 specialist or he can play a more dynamic role for an offense with his versatile offensive game.
Oliver has natural bounce and explosive leaping ability, which has helped him become a high-quality shot-blocker. Overall, he has the foundation for starting-caliber contributions as both a scorer and a defender, a la Brandon Bass.
If you’re looking for an ultimate upside comparison, then Paul Millsap is the player who best represents Oliver’s ceiling as a player.
Jan 28, 2017; Coral Gables, FL, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels forward Justin Jackson (44) dribbles the ball up court against the Miami Hurricanes during the first half at Watsco Center. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Justin Jackson entered the collegiate ranks as one of the most promising NBA Draft prospects in the country. His combination of size, skill, and athleticism resulted in many pondering just how far he could go as a scorer at the next level.
After two underachieving seasons, the North Carolina Tar Heels star has finally come into his own during his junior campaign.
Jackson has not only stabilized his jump shot, but become one of the best 3-point shooters in the ACC. He’s made 64 3-point field goals in 24 games and is shooting just under 40 percent from beyond the arc.
Jackson has always been a consistent jump shot away from stardom, and in 2016-17, it appears as though he’s found it.
The concern with Jackson is that, whether fair or foul, it’s only been 24 games that he’s been shooting at such a level. If he closes the season out strong and shines at the combine, he could conceivably live up to the lottery pick hype.
There’s still work to be done at Chapel Hill, but Jackson is well on his way to becoming the player many believed he could be.
Jan 24, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Louisville Cardinals guard Donovan Mitchell (45) defends Pittsburgh Panthers forward Corey Manigault (11) during the second half at the Petersen Events Center. Louisville won 106-51. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Donovan Mitchell is going to face questions about his true position, but he’s one of the most intriguing prospects in this draft class. He’s shown a willingness to defend and a proclivity to step up in big games.
If a contender is looking for a two-way player to solidify its rotation, then it’s safe to assume that Mitchell will be near the top of the big board.
Mitchell has the perfect combination of skills to be a 3-and-D player at the next level. He’s an explosive athlete who shows no fear in going up for his shot when a taller defender has a hand in his face.
Mitchell must learn to do a better job of getting himself open by moving without the ball, but he’s adept at playing a two-man game with crisp and decisive passes.
Most importantly, Mitchell is a Rick Pitino player, which means he’s being taught to value defense. That much is evident in how active he is in creating turnovers, as well as the film that shows him playing within the scheme.
Every team needs 3-and-D players in this era of 3-point infatuation, which should help Mitchell find an NBA home in the first round.
Jan 28, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Clemson Tigers forward Jaron Blossomgame (5) and assistant coach Nick Bowman (right) celebrate after defeating the Pittsburgh Panthers at the Petersen Events Center. Clemson won 67-60. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Jaron Blossomgame has been rightfully heralded as one of the top two-way players in the 2017 NBA Draft. He has the size and length to defend multiple positions, as well as the offensive game to score from just about anywhere on the court.
Though Blossomgame’s jump shot has fallen to pieces, there’s good reason for Blossomgame’s first-round grade to be intact.
Blossomgame proved in 2015-16 that he’s capable of shooting at a high level from 3-point range. He converted 45 3-point field goals and shot 44.6 percent from beyond the arc, which led some to believe that he can be a 3-and-D contributor.
Though Blossomgame is shooting just 26.2 percent from 3-point range in 2016-17, he’s gone 9-of-14 from distance over the course of his past three games.
Beyond his jump shot, Blossomgame does an outstanding job of working down low and is a versatile defensive player. He’s also an athletic finisher who easily plays above the rim, as well as a somewhat polished post player.
Blossomgame’s upside is comparable to Boston Celtics small forward Jae Crowder, which is why he holds onto a Round 1 grade.
Jan 14, 2017; Queens, NY, USA; Villanova Wildcats guard Josh Hart (3) dribbles the ball during the first half against the St. John’s Red Storm at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
There’s no way to quantify just how important it is to have players who aren’t afraid of the big moment. Statistics will show when a player makes big shots, but it often comes down to key rotations, extra passes, and hard closeouts in close games of an important nature.
Josh Hart is a national champion who continues to solidify his status as one of the most reliable big-game players in the country.
Hart has a 38.5″ max vertical leap and the speed to make plays in transition, but his appeal is found in how simple he makes the game. He plays from the inside out and knows when to pick his spots as a 3-point shooter.
A fair pro comparison for Hart would be Courtney Lee, who has started 41 playoff games and appeared in the NBA Finals.
Hart has become underrated in a number of areas, including his ability to contribute on both the offensive and defensive glass. He’s also capable of creating offense for not only himself, but others in a facilitating capacity.
Hart has the ability to help a team as a reliable big-game performer who can take and make shots at the end of the shot clock.