2017 NBA Draft: Big Board Part One — The Lottery
The 2016 draft class was not awful, however, it left much to be desired. This season’s most productive rookies, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, were drafted in prior seasons, and perhaps the most impactful rookie drafted last summer has been Malcolm Brogdon — a second round pick. While many players have garnered significant minutes and seem to have bright futures ahead, there does not appear to be a surefire star. Players like Brandon Ingram, Jaylen Brown, Marquese Chriss, Buddy Hield, Willy Hernangomez and Yogi Ferrell have shown stints of impressive play, yet, one can confidently project this upcoming class as a higher-upside bunch.
The 2017 Draft does not include a LeBron James or Kevin Durant-like talent, transcendent young players that automatically reconfigure the course of one’s franchise for the length of their rookie deals and beyond. It likely does not include an Anthony Davis either. However, the talent is incredibly diverse, deep and has significant upside throughout the lottery and in the first round. While last year had no ‘surefire’ stars (TBD on Ben Simmons), at this time next year, one may be looking at multiple future All-Stars that emerge from this class. This Big Board reflects a projection of the NBA careers of this year’s expected entrants prior to the NCAA Tournament.
It is worth noting that a significant emphasis is placed on stylistic fit in the modern NBA, and thus, heavy deference is given to shooting, perimeter defense, athleticism and positional versatility. Furthermore, there is a surplus of centers in today’s NBA. The glut of big men thus requires that a high-drafted center must have a sizable impact relatively quickly, or one sacrifices the value of their lottery pick.
1. Markelle Fultz (PG, 18, 6'4", 195 lbs)
Fultz, in my opinion, is the only no-doubt All Star prospect of this class. He has ideal NBA size for a lead guard with a 6'10" wingspan, and is a wizard with the ball in his hands. He has incredible leaping ability, explosion off both feet, elite athleticism, and glides through the air in transition.
Fultz is elite changing speeds, possessing a devastating shake in his dribble that consistently keeps defenders off balance. He is brilliant exploiting space and keeps the ball on a string in a crowd.
He can create his shot in a variety of ways, and projects to have isolation scoring ability in the NBA. His body control around the rim and touch using the glass are both impeccable.
Watch below as Fultz uses his elite body control to hang in the air to avoid the shot blocker, and then maximizes his touch for a soft finish.
Fultz can create at all three levels, and is a plus playmaker in pick and roll as well. His first step is above average, enough to create separation off the screen, and he makes a solid read after the help rotates off the shooter.
Fultz shot 41% from three this season on almost six attempts per 40 minutes, a solid but not particularly high volume, however, he has flashed an impressive ability to shoot off the dribble or off the catch, using consistent mechanics, a high release point and length to shoot over close outs.
Fultz can score at all three levels, displays tremendous touch and body control around the rim, has remarkable leaping ability and can play above the rim. He has shown the ability to shoot off the dribble and make plays in pick and roll, and has ideal size for a lead guard.
Fultz suffered from a knee injury this season, however, assuming he stays healthy, he could be one of the league’s most intriguing point guard prospects in years. His athleticism and handle are reminiscent of John Wall, can finish with the body control of Kyrie Irving, and has flashed Damian Lillard-like shooting ability off the dribble. Fultz is a can’t-miss prospect, and it would behoove the team with the top pick to select anyone else.
2. Jayson Tatum (Wing/Power forward, 19, 6'8", 204 lbs)
Since conference play, Tatum has improved his efficiency from the field to the point where he has solidified himself as a legitimate top prospect in this class. His offensive game is extremely polished for a 19 year-old, featuring a quick first step off the bounce, burst in the lane and above the rim, as well as the ability to shoot off the dribble and in isolation in the mid-post.
Tatum has excellent upper body strength, uses his physicality to create space from defenders off drives, and utilizes skilled body control and finishing ability around the rim.
Watch below as Tatum showcases his shot creation ability as well as his skill in creating space in tight quarters. Tatum takes Jonathan Isaac off the bounce, displaying a quick first step and burst as well as a brilliant finish in the lane.
Tatum was inefficient from three early in the season, however, his tear through the ACC Tournament and in the games prior solidified his range, and considering his 87% free throw percentage and consistent shooting stroke, one imagines that his three ball can be developed over time.
When engaged, Tatum is an active defender and can likely switch between guarding wings and forwards in the NBA. He has quick hands and a knack for forcing turnovers, like in the play below.
Tatum projects as a prototypical four in today’s game, with solid rebounding skills, and the ability to stretch the floor and score off the dribble. He projects to be a decent volume scorer early in his career, and if he can improve his shooting efficiency, may very well develop into a top scoring option on the wing in the NBA.
3. Josh Jackson (Wing, 20, 6'8", 203 lbs)
Jackson’s most popular comparison in today’s NBA is Andre Iguodala, and that fits when one watches him play. Jackson is a high-intensity forward and brings the ‘intangibles’ on both ends of the floor that essentially guarantee his spot as a rotation player in the NBA. Much like Jaylen Brown last season, Jackson’s athleticism and hustle will afford him minutes professionally, but Jackson can fill a box score more efficiently than Brown could at Cal.
Jackson’s shooting ‘woes’ are well documented. Although he shot over 50% from the field and 38% from three on low volume at Kansas, he shot 56% from the free throw line. His mechanics are inconsistent, and often shoots on feel. He is a flat-footed shooter, flares his elbow, turns his hips and often releases without enough bend in the knee, causing his shots to miss short and to the side. Those faulty mechanics are the main culprit for Jackson’s issues at the line. When Jackson shoots on the catch, he is more efficient, scoring 1.169 points per possession (ppp) on catch and shoot jumpers, good for the 75th percentile. On catch and shoots, Jackson is more consistent in generating lift from his knees and shooting from a balanced stance.
Luckily, Jackson’s mechanics are correctable, and the rest of his offensive game shows a lot to get excited about. Watch below as he executes a crossover with a quick first step and soft finish in the lane over a contest.
He has excellent body control around the rim, and shows promise as a slasher off the ball.
When Jackson gets defenders in space as he goes downhill, he’s pretty difficult to stop, and shows solid court vision with the dump off pass below.
Jackson projects as a Swiss Army knife in the NBA, with the skill set to guard multiple positions, distribute as a secondary or tertiary ball handler, and effect a game in a multitude of ways. He is the class’ most versatile wing/forward type, and should he correct his shooting mechanics, could very well be the best player in the draft.
4. Dennis Smith Jr. (PG, 19, 6'3", 195 lbs)
Smith is the most explosive leaper in the class, and has a lightning-quick first step in isolation which should allow him much success in the NBA. He has excellent body control in the air, and his explosion allows him time to adjust and maneuver around shot blockers around the rim.
Watch below as Smith beats his defender with ease at the point of attack, adjust his body in the air and finish on the opposite side of the rim.
With the space provided by the NBA game, Smith will be nearly impossible to keep out of the lane at the next level. His explosion and finishing ability will also help negate any drawbacks from his smaller frame and lack of length. He can change speeds impressively and has an NBA-ready first step, and while he lacks the athletic ability of a young Russell Westbrook or Derrick Rose, he is one of the most explosive guards to enter the NBA in years.
There are concerns about Smith’s decision making ability as a distributor, and some have argued that his supporting cast is underrated, and the team should have had more success. While Fultz’s team also failed to win throughout the season, the team surrounding him was extremely poor, and Lorenzo Romar had failed to produce wins despite rosters stacked with NBA talent over the past few years. It’s possible that is not the case with Smith, and that his tendency to turn the ball over and lack of focus on the defensive end may doom him professionally. However, his athleticism with the ball is practically unmatched in this class, and he is likely the largest beneficiary of the spacing provided by the NBA.
5. Lonzo Ball (PG, 19, 6'6", 190 lbs)
As someone who loved Ball at Chino Hills, I feel confident saying that the hype around his NBA career has gotten slightly out of hand. There has been talk of selecting him over Fultz for the number one selection, which is a ridiculous discussion if one watches both players with the ball in their hands.
Ball has elite basketball IQ and passing ability, showing remarkable anticipation, and will absolutely make his teammates better in the NBA. However, he is slow with the ball and lacks an impressive first step or burst towards the rim. He has unimpressive explosion, and hasn’t shown the ability to change speeds or directions with a tight handle. He uses his length to finish around the rim, however, his drives are often straight lines, and he rarely elevates above the defense.
Ball has not shown the skills required to be a lead ball handler in the NBA, especially in spread pick-and-roll where he will be required to break down defenders off the dribble and penetrate in order to find shooters on the perimeter. Ball’s worst efficiency numbers came as the ball handler in PnR, scoring .78 ppp on 9.3% of his possessions. He was a brilliant spot up shooter and was spectacular in transition, his two most frequent play types, however, he won’t have the opportunity to play transition offense over 30% of the time in the NBA.
Ball has played so much transition in his playing career that it is nearly impossible to project how he’ll fare in a professional half court offense. He has not shown the ability to create his own shot, and only attempted 31 jumpers off the dribble this season at UCLA. He has a solid pull up coming off screens to his left and has NBA range, but has not shown consistent ability to create separation with the ball. He is not an elite finisher around the rim, is a lesser athlete than Fultz and Smith Jr., and has below average body control and first step on drives to the rim.
At the moment, Ball projects as a secondary ball handler and a knock down shooter off the catch. He should be a brilliant play-maker with a nose for easy buckets in transition, and brings defensive versatility with his size and length. He has the highest basketball IQ in this class, and will likely be an above-average NBA player. Ball has a high floor due to his ability to effect the game in multiple ways when his shot isn’t falling, however, his skill set is too incomplete today to be considered over Fultz, who has the ideal tools for the modern NBA.
6. Jonathan Isaac (Wing/Power forward, 19, 6'11", 205 lbs)
Isaac, a legitimate wing prospect at 6'11" with a 7'1" wingspan, is one of the draft’s most intriguing players. He is ranked below Tatum and Jackson because both of those players currently project to be able to create their own shot in the NBA, a skill Isaac lacks. Isaac can handle the ball, however, he isn’t particularly athletic, and has trouble creating space, even against college big men.
Isaac primarily serves as an off-ball threat, and took 30% of his attempts as a spot up shooter. With his length and size, Isaac projects as a deadly floor spacer, and will have opportunities for significant matchup advantages.
Isaac was one of the NCAA’s most efficient cutters, scoring 1.386 ppp according to Synergy Sports, good for the 88th percentile.
Isaac’s skills are impressive, but limited. He has ball handling skills, however, he struggles athletically to create space from defenders off the dribble. He can pass, however, he lacks the court vision and quick twitch required to be a distributing four.
Defensively, Isaac is an intriguing prospect with an above average combination of footwork, length and hand quickness.
He is extremely active defensively, with a 6.2% block rate, excellent instincts, and the ability to guard multiple positions. Watch below as he cuts off Luke Kennard’s driving lane and recovers to contest Tatum’s jumper.
Again, watch below as Isaac stunts the drive, recovers to affect the pass, stays with Tatum on his hip and avoid the pump fake for a tight contest.
For a near seven-footer, Isaac shows impressive defensive instincts and elite footwork defending quicker forwards. He is hampered by his minus-athleticism, however, he compensates with elite length and high level instincts. Isaac projects as a versatile defender and a spot up floor spacer, which is a deadly combination at 6'11". Isaac can serve as a secondary rim protector, can clean the glass, and space the floor from a forward spot, which is ideal in the modern NBA. While he will likely never be a primary creator, he can be one of the league’s most unique and talented ‘role players’.
7. Miles Bridges (Wing/Power forward, 19, 6'6", 226 lbs)
Bridges projects as an ideal prototype for the modern NBA forward. He converted 39% of his three-point attempts on 5.2 attempts per game this season. He averages 10.4 rebounds, a steal and two blocks per-40 minutes, and boasts an effective field goal percentage of 55.8%. He is an explosive athlete above the rim, and posted incredible box plus-minus statistics on the defensive end. However, there are drawbacks to each eye-popping number.
Bridges shot 68.7% from the free throw line this season. He has a funky release, and that combination may prove problematic at the next level. Many college star forwards have posted impressive long range numbers but poor free throw shooting, and that generally bodes poorly for their success in the NBA. A prominent example of an explosive athlete, long-range bomber but poor free throw shooter that comes to mind is Derrick Williams, who posted similar college statistics to Bridges. Bridges has been prone to defensive lapses and failed to provide consistent effort throughout the season, however, the tools are in place.
According to Synergy Sports, Bridges scored via spot-up 25% of the time, and his other most frequent possession-types were in transition and in isolation. He finished above the 77th percentile in all three categories. He averages 1.457 points per possession on cuts and 1.217 ppp off screens, showing a knack for remarkable efficiency in common NBA sets.
As a spot up shooter, one sees the questions about his release and wonders if he will be able to shoot high volume threes over close-outs in the NBA. His release is quite low and not particularly quick, however, he shows impressive court instincts and has excellent situational awareness offensively, which should allow him to make up for some of the mechanical issues.
It remains to be seen whether or not Bridges’ shooting numbers are a mirage, and if his smaller frame might preclude him from stardom in the NBA. However, he is reminiscent of Aaron Gordon with more of a shooting touch, and if played as a stretch-big, should have opportunities to become more efficient as a scorer over time.
8. Frank Ntilikina (PG, 18, 6'5", 170 lbs)
Ntilikina is a difficult prospect to project, having only played 620 minutes in Europe the past three years. Despite that, he’s shot 18 of 44 from three (41%) professionally, and was 7–10 from three in the FIBA u18 championship game. He is the draft’s youngest prospect having turned 18 in July of 2016, and has ideal size for a lead guard in the NBA with a 6'5" frame and a rumored 7' wingspan.
As a shooting threat, Ntilikina projects as a floor spacer in the NBA, showcasing impressive range and a fluid release.
His handle seems about average based on his performance in the U18s, and was a bit turnover prone as well. He does not have the quickest first step and lacks elite burst, which will make it difficult for him to create his own shot in the NBA. He is not particularly explosive, and will likely struggle to get into the paint against better perimeter defenders.
Ntilikina projects as a defensive menace. He uses brilliant timing and his outsize length to set up his favorite defensive play, the chase down block, which he did quite often in the U18s.
However, that affinity for the chase down often leads to ball handlers blowing by Ntilikina, and his timing is not always impeccable, leading to some embarrassing open lay ups. He is dependent on his length and quick feet defensively, and is adept at disrupting passing lanes. He has above average footwork, showing the ability to stay with ball handlers when engaged and uses his length to poke balls loose and force turnovers. His size should allow him defensive versatility to switch onto wings, and he projects as a prototypical 3-and-D player.
He is reminiscent of a lanky Patrick Beverley, especially in the sense that his 3-and-D prowess provides slightly less upside at lead guard than on the wing. Ntilikina won’t be the player that leads a team into its next iteration, however, put in the right environment, he will likely thrive as a pesky defender with incredible length, and when he is on offense, one can not go under a screen for him. That’s an extremely valuable piece, however, to expect him to run a top-10 NBA offense is unrealistic at this stage of his development.
9. Lauri Markkanen (Power forward, 19, 7'0", 225 lbs)
Imagine Jahlil Okafor, but take his post game and make it perimeter oriented. That is Lauri Markkanen. Markkanen is an offensive wizard — a fantastic shooter from distance and will be a floor spacing monster in the NBA. He can shoot off the dribble, off the catch, is extremely fluid, and has one of the most impressive perimeter offensive arsenals coming from a seven footer in years. Watch how smooth he looks handling the ball in pick and roll.
His ability to shoot off the dribble for his size is simply incredible, and while the Dirk comparison is extremely lazy, it may be apt in this case.
Markkanen was 19 of 40 from the field on jumpers off the dribble this season, good for the NCAA’s 83rd percentile. It’s a guess, but I would imagine that among players 6'10" or above, that would qualify for the 99th percentile. He will qualify most effectively as a pick and pop threat, a perfect role for him, since the standard NBA ICE defense allows for opportunities for big men with quick releases.
Despite his offensive prowess, he has short arms (7'0" wingspan) and he can’t jump, making him a massive liability defensively. No one has truly figured out how to maximize the seven footer who cannot protect the rim, and while Markkanen’s range and spacing potential will allow him to stay on the floor, he likely must be surrounded by top-level perimeter defenders in order to form a competent defense around him. He averaged a 13.9% rebounding percentage at Arizona, and does not possess the length, strength or toughness to anchor a team at the block as a rebounder or rim protector.
In Markkanen, a team will get an elite offensive talent who will thrive in pick and pop, and space the floor to make penetration and kick outs difficult to stop. However, his defensive limitations may be difficult to overcome without the right personnel around him. Selecting Markkanen is a trade off, but he will thrive offensively in the modern NBA, and has some star potential.
10. Terrance Ferguson (Wing, 18, 6'7", 186 lbs)
Ferguson spent this season in Australia, and most of this analysis is based on his high school performances and word about his performances overseas. Ferguson is a knock down spot up shooter, and had a breakout 15 minute performance shooting 7 of 11 from three at the Nike Hoop Summit in 2016. He has excellent lift on his jumper, a quick release, and is always square and balanced. In my opinion, Ferguson has the best pure form on his jump shot in this Draft class, and his consistency on his release is reminiscent of Klay Thompson’s effortless shot.
Ferguson mostly lacks in other areas of his game. He does not contribute on the boards or creating for others, his handle is average, and his slender frame has hindered his defensive potential thus far. However, he is an elite athlete with above average explosiveness, and it is reasonable to project that he will translate those skills into a decent free throw rate at the next level.
Ferguson has a 6'9.5" wingspan, and at shooting guard, possesses intriguing size and length defensively. At 18, one expects that he’ll continue filling into his frame, at which point his defensive flashes may become more consistent. He has above average lateral quickness and high level footwork for an 18 year-old, and projects as an ideal 3-and-D wing. The consistency in his shooting form, along with his length and youth all make him an extremely interesting prospect for someone who spent the last year in Australia. He won’t be your leading scorer, but his upside is there, and will likely be an excellent spot up shooter at worst.
11. OG Anunoby (Wing/Power forward, 19, 6'8", 215 lbs)
If Anunoby had not had knee surgery in January, he likely would have been a top five prospect on this board. He is a physical specimen, likely weighing more than his listed 215 lbs, and stands with a wingspan that is rumored to range between 7'3" and 7'6". He possesses elite size, length, and mobility for the modern NBA forward, and is the best defensive prospect in this draft.
Anunoby could realistically guard any position in the NBA. He is the most comparable prospect to Draymond Green on that end of the ball in the past few years. Anunoby has elite lateral quickness that allows him to stay in front of guards and wings, and the strength to front bigs and muscle them in the paint. He has excellent close out speed and uses his length to block perimeter shots, which also is effective in passing lanes.
Watch below as he stays on Denzel Valentine’s hip through the play, and uses his length to erase the shot attempt.
Here, he simply blasts through a double screen on the floppy set, gets back in his stance, stays on the ball handler on the shake, and contests the fadeaway jumper.
Before his injury, Anunoby posted a 4.2% steal rate and a 4.3% block rate, and posted 3.6% and 5.0% rates in the season prior. He is an enormously tantalizing defensive prospect, and should his medical evaluations point towards a return to form, he is a cannot miss prospect on the defensive end.
Offensively, Anunoby can thrive in a smaller role as a spot up shooter, straight line driver or off ball cutter. He won’t be able to create his own shot on most occasions, has a poor lefty dribble, and does not yet qualify as a pick and roll ball handler. His shooting mechanics are decent, and is a career 36% shooter from three in college, despite a 52% free throw rate. If Anunoby can develop into a consistent spot up threat, he will be one of this draft’s best players, as his defensive upside is one of the draft’s most compelling skillsets.
12. Malik Monk (PG/Wing, 19, 6'4", 197 lbs)
Monk is a dead-eye shooter. However, it’s hard to see what else. Monk has a wingspan shorter than his listed height (6'3.5"), a below average dribbling ability, and his shot creation is limited mostly to a one or two-dribble pull-up move. His handle is not at the level to break down a defense off the dribble, and thus, while he’s an impressive athlete, he struggles to take advantage of his athleticism around the rim in the half court. According to Synergy Sports, he only took 27 isolation drive attempts this season, and converted at a poor rate (.704 ppp, 26th percentile).
Monk generally sticks to his strengths offensively. In transition, he is a beast, showing elite run and jump skills as well as excellent explosion in space. He ranks in the 89th percentile in spot up opportunities, according to Synergy, and scores above 1 point per possession off screens, good for the 71st percentile. Those three play types (transition, spot ups, off screens) account for 75.8% of his field goal attempts. Monk averaged an incredible 1.349 ppp on guarded catch and shoot jumpers.
Monk is projected to be drafted eighth by DraftExpress, which seems too high given his limited skill set, lack of contribution in other categories, and poor defensive upside. He projects as a high volume and high efficiency three point shooter, but currently does not possess the handle or play-making ability to serve as a threat as a shot creator in the NBA. One could understand a high selection for a team completely bereft of shooting, however, the team selecting Monk must know they won’t be getting much else.
13. De’Aaron Fox (PG, 19, 6'4", 171 lbs)
Fox is currently projected to be drafted in the top-five by DraftExpress, a ranking that is markedly too high for a point guard shooting 24% from three this season at Kentucky. At first glance, he falls into the box of recent point guard prospects who cannot shoot, including Michael Carter-Williams, Elfrid Payton and Emmanuel Mudiay. While he is likely more talented than these players were as prospects, he faces an uphill climb.
Of NBA starting point guards in 2016–17, the only ones averaging over 15 points per game and shooting under 35% from three are Russell Westbrook, John Wall, Dennis Schroder, Derrick Rose, and Giannis, if he qualifies as a PG in the reader’s opinion. These players all have above-average to elite quickness, explosion and finishing ability at the rim. Fox is extremely quick, however, his frame limits his explosion in the half court. To be successful on the NBA level, Fox must become a top-level finisher around the rim.
Fox has shown an improved finishing ability as the season has progressed. However, this skill is nowhere near elite and where it needs to be for consistent success at the next level. Fox often forces a finish with his left hand on either side, something he will need to correct as a pro.
Fox is immensely quick and projects as a high-level perimeter defender on the ball. He has excellent footwork, and that combination with his elite speed produces quality transition play on offense. In the half court, his first step is also NBA-ready, however, in order to become a viable lead ball-handler, he’ll need to either improve his jumper, or prove that he is a consistently capable finisher around the rim. Fox projects as a solid player, however, selecting him in the top half of the lottery is flirting with a risky proposition that has not fared well with similar prospects in the past few years.
14. Luke Kennard (Wing, 20, 6'5", 187 lbs)
Kennard will be forced to be hidden defensively in the NBA, however, I would bet on his scoring ability translating to the next level. Kennard can create his own shot from anywhere on the floor, with a crafty handle and soft touch around the rim. His quick release allows him to pull up off the dribble, and he is brilliantly efficient scoring in a myriad of ways.
Kennard has a balanced attack and is deadly spotting up off the catch or peeling off screens. He is one of the country’s best pick and roll ball handlers, can score in isolation, off hand-offs, and is active in transition. Kennard scored a truly unbelievable 1.146 ppp on jump shots off the dribble, and drove to either side of the court in isolation at a 50/50 split.
The combination of shot creation and three point range will make it tough for Kennard to fail in the NBA. He is currently projected as a late-first round pick, but it’s highly unlikely you find 25 players in this class who have better careers than Luke Kennard.