One of my favourite dates on the NBA calendar is NBA Draft Day. Even with my Heat being a spectator and mortgaging off the majority of their picks over the past 6 years, it still remains one of the best parts of an NBA season. The promise of youth and the uncertainty of where your favourite prospects are going to end up is strangely addictive.
On that note, I believe it’s time for a “never too early” look at the top end talent of the 2017 player pool – with this draft being highly touted as one of the best drafts since 2003. The top of the draft is particularly deep at point guard, which will leave a few teams with interesting questions to answer (looking at you Boston and Phoenix).
The Top 10 below is based on my own opinions of each prospect and where I rate them from what I have seen to date. I’ve assessed them based on their playing style, physical profile, age and production in order to come up with their current position. Also included are stylistically similar players for you to get a feel for what kind of player they are – and if they could help your team. The teams mentioned in the “Who could use him” section are based on the range of where these teams are expected to be picking in the Top 10 as of right now.
Now that the formalities are sorted – let’s take a look at the cream of the crop.
Physical profile: 6’4″ and 195lbs with a 6’10” wingspan
Age: 18 years old
Pro position: Point guard, with the size to play as a combo in certain lineups
Plays a little like: John Wall / Kyrie Irving
Who could use him? Heat, 76ers, Celtics, Wolves, Suns and Mavs
The numbers (17 games): 22.2ppg, 5.8rpg, 6.1apg, 1.6spg, 1.3bpg, 1.8 3pg, 48%fg, 41% 3fg, 67%ft in 35mpg
Markelle Fultz looks to have all the physical gifts to be an elite PG in the league. He needs to add strength to his frame, but has the profile, finishing ability and shooting touch to be a real handful. He is excellent in the pick ‘n roll – or pick ‘n pop, as his pull up game is a real weapon (as shown in this DX video). Here’s a great article by The Step Back on how Fultz has built an offensive arsenal by studying the NBA’s elite guards. His body control going to the hoop reminds me of John Wall and Kyrie Irving – two of the best in the league at Fultz’s position. One thing I would like to see from Fultz is better body language – he often looks a little disinterested or disengaged with his teammates, however Simmons dealt with similar character questions last season. Minor attitude issue aside, Fultz looks to be the consensus #1 pick regardless of who wins the lottery (even you Boston).
Much like Simmons and LSU, Washington are unlikely to make the NCAA Tournament, which potentially could give other players the ability to push him for the top pick.
Physical profile: 6’3″ and 195lbs with a 6’3″ wingspan
Age: 19 years and 1 month
Pro position: Point guard
Plays a little like: Kyle Lowry with hops
Who could use him? Heat, 76ers, Wolves and Mavs
The numbers (17 games): 18.8ppg, 4.1rpg, 6.2apg, 2.2spg, 1.7 3pg, 46%fg, 38% 3fg, 74%ft in 33mpg
Dennis Smith Jr reminds me so much of Kyle Lowry. Not sure if it’s the physical way they play, the high motor and intensity, or the big booty – but they’re dead ringers on the court. One noticeable difference is the high flying ability Smith possesses. Known throughout his high school days as an athletic beast, one potential concern is his short wingspan – however this doesn’t seem to hamper him from finishing at the collegiate level. Another issue is the ACL tear he suffered in high school – which may well be a query for those taking him this early. Most teams at the top of the lottery could use a PG upgrade – with the 76ers, Wolves and Mavs all potential options. Keep an eye on the Heat if they bite the bullet and deal Goran Dragic – he’s a Riley type point guard.
Physical profile: 6’8″ and 204lbs with a 6’11” wingspan
Age: 18 years and 8 months
Pro position: Combo forward
Plays a little like: Danny Granger
Who could use him? Wolves, Suns, Heat, Celtics and Mavs
The numbers (10 games): 16.8ppg, 6.6rpg, 1.9apg, 2.0spg, 1.5bpg, 1.1 3pg, 43%fg, 31% 3fg, 86%ft in 30mpg
Tatum has been as good as advertised so far through the college season. Due to a foot sprain, he missed the first 8 games of the season – but has barely missed a beat since. Tatum looks to have great defensive potential – as illustrated by his high blocks and steal numbers, no doubt assisted by his 6’11 wingspan. Tatum will need to add weight in the pros, but has an advanced offensive game for his age – including some Carmeloesque jab step midrange J’s. His versatility and smooth offensive game will be highly appealing for teams looking to add a combo forward, with good size, who can step out and hit the 3 ball (read: everyone).
Physical profile: 6’6″ and 190lbs with a 6’7″ wingspan
Age: 19 years and 2 months
Pro position: Point guard – due to his size, could play some SG
Plays a little like: Ricky Rubio with a 3 point shot
Who could use him? Suns, Mavs, Heat, Wolves and Celtics
The numbers (19 games): 14.6ppg, 5.5rpg, 8.0apg, 1.8spg, 0.9bpg, 2.4 3pg, 53%fg, 43% 3fg, 68%ft in 36mpg
Lonzo Ball plays the game the right way. A unique 6’6″ PG, there haven’t been many players like him. He’s a floor general with the size to be a match-up nightmare for opposing PG’s. Add to that his speed and creativity in the open court and unlimited range, and you can see why he’s rated so highly. Here’s a great read from The Ringer on why Ball is the engine to UCLA’s success. Some questions remain on his ability to create off the dribble in the half court, as well as his midrange shooting ability – mainly due to his Kevin Martin style unorthodox stroke. However, Ball would be a handy addition to just about any of the cellar dwelling teams this off-season. His size in particular is a novel trait that would be intriguing alongside Devin Booker, or as a shooter to space the floor alongside Harrison Barnes as the new building blocks in Dallas. If UCLA make a big run in the NCAA tournament and Ball is a major reason why…he could push Fultz for top honours.
Physical profile: 6’8″ and 203lbs with a 6’10” wingspan
Age: 19 years and 9 months
Pro position: Combo Forward
Plays a little like: Andrew Wiggins
Who could use him? Celtics, Wolves, Suns and Heat
The numbers (17 games): 15.6ppg, 6.7rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.6spg, 1.4bpg, 0.5 3pg, 51%fg, 57%ft in 28mpg
The #2 ranked high school player in the nation last year, Josh Jackson has performed well for a strong Kansas team so far this college season. With good size, length and athletic ability – it’s easy to see why teams could be enamored with Jackson. He works well off the ball, plays with a pretty high motor and is strong heading towards the basket. My concern with Jackson is his jumper – it’s a real problem. He has a weird hitch to it, and is shooting just 54% from the foul line…which is a bit of a red flag. Here’s another excellent article from The Ringer which talks about Jackson’s jumper issues in more detail. Teams willing to gamble on Jackson’s ability as a multi faceted combo forward and have the patience to re-work his jumper may be well rewarded. He would fit in well on a strong outside shooting team like Boston – where he can ply his jack of all trades game, but would also be an interesting fit in Minnesota next to KAT and Wiggins too.
Physical profile: 6’3″ and 183lbs, with a 6’4″ wingspan
Age: 18 years and 9 months
Pro position: Shooting Guard
Plays a little like: Jamal Crawford
Who could use him? 76ers, Lakers and Kings
The numbers (17 games): 21.8ppg, 2.3rpg, 2.2apg, 1.1spg, 3.2 3pg, 51% fg, 42% 3fg, 85%ft in 29 mpg
While some teams may be wanting him to show more PG instincts given his size and average wingspan – make no mistake – Malik Monk is a pure scorer. As witnessed in his insane 47 point explosion (above for your viewing pleasure), Monk will take (and make) a ton of difficult looks. His jumper is his biggest weapon, as he can get a shot off whenever he wants it. In the open court he’s a highlight reel waiting to happen – electric and has elite finishing ability. Perhaps similar to last year’s Kentucky lotto pick in Jamal Murray, teams looking for a volume scorer at the 2 spot should be keeping close tabs on Monk. I think he’d be a really nice fit alongside Simmons and Embiid in Philly.
Physical profile: 6’3″ and 171lbs with a 6’5″ wingspan
Age: 19 years old
Pro position: Point Guard
Plays a little like: Dennis Schroder
Who could use him? Pelicans, Kings and the Nuggets
The numbers (17 games): 16.5ppg, 5.0rpg, 6.4apg, 1.7spg, 0.3 3pg, 47%fg, 72%ft in 30mpg
Possibly overlooked in this deep PG class, De’Aaron Fox has had a great Freshman season so far for the Wildcats. Kentucky has a strong history in churning out high quality PG’s (see: Wall, Rondo, Bledsoe) and Fox is no exception. He has good size and length for the position and plays with high intensity. His length in particular often gives opposing point guards trouble, while on offence, he has an explosive first step and can finish amongst the trees, or show a nice floater. His weakness lies with his 3 point shot, as he hasn’t been able to consistently show his ability to knock it down yet. Looking at his J, there doesn’t seem to be anything fundamentally wrong with it though. Teams who are weak at the PG slot in the back end of the Top 10 such as New Orleans (impending Jrue Holiday FA), Sacramento (Collison and Lawson) or the Nuggets (Mudiay) would be strong fits for Fox.
Physical profile: 7’0″ and 225lbs with a 7’0″ wingspan
Age: 19 years and 6 months
Pro position: Power Forward / Center
Plays a little like: Brook Lopez with more mobility and less shotblocking
Who could use him? Pelicans, Kings, Wolves and Blazers
The numbers (18 games): 16.7ppg, 7.4rpg, 1.2apg, 2.2 3pg, 51%fg, 47% 3fg, 83%ft in 31mpg
Finnish born Lauri Markannen is a protypical modern day stretch 4/5. A pretty versatile big for a guy of his size, Markannen’s ability to splash from deep has been shown throughout the college season thus far (2.2 made threes per game on a 47% clip). Markannen will need to continue to work on his defensive positioning and rebounding, as he’s not much of a shotblocker or rebounder at this point in his career. This puts him as an ideal fit in New Orleans, as playing next to someone like Anthony Davis would be a perfect compliment to Markannen’s skill set.
Physical profile: 6’11” and 205lbs with a 7’1″ wingspan
Age: 19 years and 2 months
Pro position: Combo Forward
Plays a little like: Brandon Ingram
Who could use him? Kings, Pelicans and the Suns
The numbers (15 games): 12.5ppg, 7.5rpg, 1.0apg, 1.4spg, 1.1bpg, 52%fg, 35%3fg and 78%ft in 25mpg
Just looking at Jonathan Isaac, the comparison to Ingram seems obvious. Both are long, versatile players with solid jump shots that are rail thin. The biggest adjustment Isaac will need to make is physically – to be a true weapon in the pros, he’ll need to add some weight to his very thin frame. Teams will be very interested in Isaac due to his huge size and length as an NBA wing – it’s a rare trait. I feel Isaac would be a good fit in Sacramento, with the potential departure of Rudy Gay in Free Agency making Isaac a solid option to build around at the forward spot.
Physical profile: 6’10” and 215lbs with a 7’2″ wingspan
Age: 19 years and 9 months
Pro position: Power Forward / Center
Plays a little like: Brandan Wright with a jumper and a nose for rebounding
Who could use him? Nuggets and Wolves
The numbers (16 games): 15.6ppg, 11.1rpg, 1.1apg, 0.6spg, 1.1bpg, 54%fg and 64%ft in 32mpg
I’m a little higher than most on Rabb – DraftExpress and NBADraft.net have him ranked in the middle of the 1st round – but I really appreciate what he brings to the table. The only Sophomore I have projected in the Top 10 – Rabb has good size for the PF position and has now started to flash an emerging jumper, to go with his jump hooks. Runs the floor hard and is an elite rebounder at the collegiate level, particularly given his huge 7’2″ wingspan. Calling him a Brandan Wright style player sounds like I’m down on him – but let’s remember that Brandan Wright was a #8 pick out of UNC once upon a time. I think a team like the Nuggets would be a good fit, as Jokic’s versatile passing game and ability to shoot from deep would work well alongside Rabb’s skill set.
THE BEST OF THE REST
One of the great things about this draft is the entire lottery looks incredibly deep. Here’s a list of the players to keep an eye on as the college and international seasons ramp up – they’ll be pushing for the Top 10:
- OG ANUNOBY – INDIANA / SOPHOMORE / GUARD-FORWARD
- FRANK NTILIKINA – FRANCE / GUARD
- BAM ADEBAYO – KENTUCKY / FRESHMAN / CENTER
- HARRY GILES – KENTUCKY / FRESHMAN / FORWARD
- ISAIAH HARTENSTEIN – GERMANY / FORWARD
- MILES BRIDGES – MICHIGAN STATE / FRESHMAN / FORWARD
There’s a long way for all of this to play out and I will update my rankings at various stages throughout the year. Stay tuned for more NBA Draft analysis on The Four Point Play.