Identifying the Four Star Talents in the 2016 NBA Draft

Simmons is alone at the top — what 3 players should join him?


The NBA draft is fun and pretty easy really.

The best players always go #1, like Michael Olowokandi and Kwame Brown and Anthony Bennett. And future stars are never missed in those top few picks, certainly not guys like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green.

And no one ever says anything really stupid about a draft pick that comes back to haunt them later, especially a guy like Stephen Curry:

Oops…

Ok fine, the NBA draft is a crap shoot, especially after the top few picks. Even just one year later, last year’s draft would go in a completely different order other than of course future MVP Karl-Anthony Towns at the top.

Still, it’s our job to try to find the best players even amidst the question marks and uncertainty. The 2016 NBA draft is one of the weakest in years but every draft is valuable. This one is particularly valuable since finding the right young player will represent an incredibly low contract moving forward with the cap — and rookie scale — rising next year.

With that in mind, who are the four potential stars atop the 2016 NBA draft?


Ben Simmons

Ben Simmons has been told he will go #1 to Philadelphia. Good.

Simmons is the one player in this draft that has the best potential of being a franchise-changing transformational player. But he has been the presumed top pick since the start of the season, and that often means critics focus on all of his possible weaknesses and miss the forest for the trees.

No, Simmons is not a great shooter. We get it. But actually scoring points is one of the most easily replaceable talents in the NBA where everyone can score. And besides Simmons can score and gets the job done really well near the rim. There’s time to find a respectable jump shot.

What Simmons can do is create and let the other 4 guys on the floor score. This is a 6'10 forward that just averaged 19 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 assists in a major college conference as a 19-year-old freshman. Simmons showed off a fantastic hoops IQ and a good knowledge of his own game.

Fox Sports

In college he was criticized for not being willing to shoot the jumper or take over the game at times — in the NBA that’s called playing within yourself and being efficient. My favorite Simmons line from the season: 4/14/10/3/3 vs NC State. Here’s a guy, unable to find the scoring touch, using his 5th game in college to impact the game in basically every other way.

Simmons shot 50% or better in 24 games this year. He had 5+ assists in 19 games — remember, as a 6'10 power forward. He also showed good hands on defense with 2 steals a game, a positive sign for his defense. The real question with Simmons is how he translates at the next level.

No, he’s not LeBron — there’s only one king. But he might be something like Lamar Odom or Boris Diaw or maybe a Draymond Green. Or maybe he’s a point guard, an evolutionary Shaun Livingston. He needs to improve on his shot and will also need to find ways to stay involved and bring more value off the ball.

There is a real concern with Simmons that must be mentioned. He played for a real team in a real conference, a team he chose to go to, and didn’t even make the field of 68 March Madness teams. His LSU Tigers barely even made the NIT before flaming out.

There are some attitude questions and maybe more importantly, a real question of passion for the game. You don’t get to be the player Simmons is without being dedicated to your craft, but there is definitely some bust potential if he ends up in the wrong situation. Simmons needs to play on a team with other motivated players, one moving forward. More specifically, he may really stall out on a tanking team, so take note Philly.

The right NBA team that smartly figures out how to unlock Ben Simmons’s all-world talents has a possible MVP player on their hands.


Dragan Bender

First of all, it’s pronounced Drah-jen Bender, so let’s get it right.

Dragan is not Porzingis, nor is he Nowitzki. There are a lot of Euro guys and they’re not all the same player. It’s not a bad thing if you can’t find a “type” at the next level. It’s pretty awesome that we’ve never seen anything like Porzingis before, and Bender may be similar.

Dragan brings so many positives to the table. He’s a great shooter and a strong passer and shows a good knowledge of the game. He’s an average athlete but one that is 7 feet tall. Those extra few inches help close the athleticism gap and make him a pretty good athlete.

Yahoo!

Bender is what would happen if you recreated Ryan Anderson’s stretch 4 type and shooting ability but added the ability to create for both himself and others and a real desire and ability on defense.

He has the potential to be incredibly valuable in the pick-and-roll, both on offense and on defense. In today’s switch-happy league, Bender is long enough and athletic enough to switch onto all five positions and hold his own. Go watch the last two Warriors series again if you don’t remember how valuable that is.

I’m not sure if Dragan is ever going to have “superstar” numbers but he is the sort of player every team covets in 2016. He should be a top-2 pick and could be the best player in the draft.

He’s young — the youngest player in the entire draft. That’s super valuable and shows a huge upset but it also means a young team will need to be patient. That could scare someone like Boston away but might make the perfect fit for a place like Minnesota or Phoenix with a great young core.


Buddy Hield

Everyone fell in love with Buddy Hield this year.

If you watched any college ball at all, you know what you’re looking at — the one guy in NCAA that actually played like Steph Curry, treating the 3-point line with disdain. Hield shot 322 threes this year and made an impressive 147 of them. That’s an incredible 46% shooting from downtown and includes a great many of them from NBA range or beyond as well as quite a few contested shots.

This dude is a scorer and a playmaker. Hield has brash confidence and is going to be ready to shoot and score. He looks like the sort of guy that can win you a quarter in a big game or playoff moment, at least something like Jamal Crawford or NBA-champion JR Smith.

One of the criticisms of Buddy is that he doesn’t do much besides score, with 25 points but just 5.7 boards and 2 assists per game. May I introduce you to Klay Thompson? He had just 3.8 boards and 2 assists a game himself and seems perfectly valuable. Hield is not Klay because there’s a huge defensive difference, but he is an NBA-ready player who will play and have an immediate impact.

Sports on Earth

The biggest concern with Buddy is his age. He’ll be 23 in December and that means less room to improve, and that’s normally a fair criticism. But take a look at the 4-year progression at Oklahoma and you see that maybe he’s already done most of his development for you.

This is not a late flash in the pan high riser but a guy that worked hard and got better every year. Hield improved from 14 ppg his first three years to 25 ppg last year, 42 to 50% from the field, 80 to 88% free throws, and 35 to 46% threes. He was flat out the best player in college this year and frankly it wasn’t close. He had 26 games with 20+ points and hit 3+ threes in 29 games.

Hield was at his best when he drove to the rim too and drew some fouls, and he did have 13 games with 8+ free throw attempts. He’ll need to continue to be aggressive in the NBA and can’t just shoot heat check jumpers every time down, but the 3-point chances will come.

Hield is a smart player with a ton of guts, an incredible shooter that can create his own space, and a strong rebounder. His shooting is the single best talent in this year’s draft.


Brandon Ingram

Ingram is a nice player but maybe not quite as good as the player everyone has hyped him up to be. He’s not Kevin Durant and not a #2 pick talent — he just happens to be the 2nd pick in this light-at-the-top draft.

Ingram has great length and good but not great athleticism. He’s a year or two away from having a usable NBA body and needs to add a lot of strength and muscle. Ingram right now is primarily a shooter and a scorer. That makes him attractive to the NBA fan, that and recognizing him from Duke, but most NBA guys can score.

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Can Ingram score at an elite level? Ingram did have 14 games with 20+ points but has a career high of just 26. He’s a consistently good scorer but not a great one yet. He also had a career high of just 4 assists, twice. And he did all of that as the focal point of a Duke offense built to show off his strengths.

Ingram had some real stinkers against top teams — 4/1/1 vs Kentucky, 10/8//1 vs UNC, and 8/5/2 vs Louisville with 10 turnovers. Those are teams with the sort of athleticism he’ll be facing at the NBA level, so the learning curve may be steeper than expected. He’ll need to learn how to play active defense without fouling, and we still need to see whether the 41% threes or the 68% free throws is the outlier.

Ingram is a very nice player and everyone loves an athletic scoring wing, but I’m not convinced he’s a better prospect than guys like Justise Winslow or even Stanley Johnson from last year’s draft. Ingram is not an all-world scoring talent and he’s not going to average 25–30 points a game. He might be something a little closer to Rudy Gay.

Still he’s one of the possible stars in this weaker 2016 NBA Draft. He’s going to take longer to get there than the others here, and I fear he may not do it in time for the win-now Lakers — who would have a perfectly good Russell, Clarkson, Ingram, Randle core if they just let it marinate.



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