Part 1: The First Annual Showman Preseason Awards
The 2017 NBA draft is a long way away; I mean, Kings fans are still trying to figure out who the hell Vlade Divac drafted in June’s draft, but that doesn’t stop fans from putting their list of prospects to look out for to the upcoming college season. Unlike the most recent draft, Basket-bloggers are head over heels for this potential class, as many believe this to be a very deep draft with close to six or seven surefire all-stars.
I would like to kick off the first discussion regarding the 2017 NBA prospects by handing out a few pre-season awards to some of the more intriguing college hoop prospects (in my opinion) in Part 1 of the First Annual Showman Pre-season Special Awards. These awards are given to players who I will be closely watching during the upcoming 2016–2017 NCAA season. Some may be poised to go top five, others might be sleepers who have caught my attention, and some are just guys that I enjoy watching play.
Early Takes on the 2017 Draft
The “Archie Goodwin” Award
Wenyen Gabriel, F, Kentucky
Every year Kentucky grabs at least three to four potential lottery talents and of those players, at least one I overhype way too much. This award is based on the fact that I believed in Archie Goodwin as a legit PG more than anyone, maybe even more than Coach Cal or his own family. This year, the Kentucky guy I will die defending is Wenyen Gabriel, a 6'10 forward with range and sneaky athleticism. To prove to all the Flagrant 2 fans my borderline insanity, last January I was completely dismissive when friends persisted on his abilities… flash forward to this summer and I’m writing tweets that proclaim Gabriel to be more in line for a Kevin Durant comparison than Brandon Ingram ever was. The more I watch of Gabriel, the bigger fan I become of his game, and the most exciting part is, I don’t think he is even done growing. Now, he doesn’t deserve the Archie Goodwin Award just because I am a fanboy; instead, he falls into it due to his raw ability and the fact that he will have to adjust to a new position on the fly, which has me a little worried for him. To maximize his ability and put the Wildcats in the best chance to win, Cal will deploy Gabriel on the wing to utilize his length against the competition. One thing that has me intrigued is his prior experience operating out of the post which has given him a great foundation on how to score in the low-post and fight for the second chance bucket. I do hope Gabriel becomes the next in line to receive the KD comparison, rather than faltering into the next Perry Jones.
The “Forgotten Senior” Award
Peter Jok, G, Iowa
“The senior” was once a term phrased for key NBA prospects like Marcus Fizer, Kenyon Martin, or Nick Collison, but today the senior is looked at like an old, used toy. Most people today don’t want an expired product with bad springs and the paint chipped off; instead, they want the flash of Apple’s newest product. However, sometimes those old toys are the perfect fit for the right owner. Last year, Brice Johnson or even Caris Levert fit this reference as older players with potential who lasted late into the first round. The 2017 draft has their share as well, including my favorite, Peter Jok. Jok is a 6'6 guard who will be the de facto leader for the Hawkeyes this year, and they couldn’t be happier to still have him. He is a legitimate threat for Big Ten player of the year, if he improves on his 16 PPG and stays consistent with his .57% TSP. The one area Jok must improve on if he wants to make it in the early second or potentially late first round is his perimeter defense. Someone with Jok’s frame and wingspan should be able to shut down almost any player in the Big Ten from a defensive standpoint, but he has been just average in terms of DRtg at 103. I do believe Jok improves his defense and ends up as an early second round pick, giving him an outside chance at developing into a Danny Green-type player.
The “Are We Sure That Kind of Big Man Should Be Drafted that High?” Award
Thomas Bryant, C, Indiana
Each year it seems that viable big men like Jakob Poeltl are often criticized for not fitting the mold of the current big, and rather are seen as modern day dinosaurs ready for extinction. I still believe in the old school big to a certain extent, and my favorite is none other than Indiana big man Thomas Bryant. After a successful freshman year, I was ecstatic that Bryant decided to come back and avoid the same fate as Daniel Orton by staying in the draft. Bryant will have the opportunity to develop into a more legitimate offensive threat with the departure of Yogi Ferrell and Troy Williams, but it is his high motor and great measurables that have me thinking he’ll be a top 15 contender next year. With a 7'5 wingspan and possibly the best motor for a big man in quite some time, I really see Bryant developing into a Tristan Thompson-esque role in the NBA. Adding to impressive resume is his attitude: Bryant is intelligent, has a strong desire to win, and plays with his heart on his sleeve — all things that should have plenty of NBA teams biting to draft him. Bryant has the talent and more importantly the maturity to become that high energy big man like Thompson, Ed Davis or Stephen Adams who demonstrates his value in ways other than scoring and defensive rebounds.
The “James… Are You Sure You Think Isaiah Whitehead is a Legit NBA Guy?”
Deng Adel, SF/PF, Louisville
Each year, I look for a sophomore to really take the next big step in terms of rounding out their game and working on improving their weaknesses. Last year it was Whitehead who improved in his decision making, but more importantly his leadership, and I feel that this year I have to give it to Deng Adel from Louisville. Adel is a 6'7 forward who has the frame and athleticism to grow into a defensive stopper similar to Al-Farouq Aminu or Jae Crowder. Like many sophomores who stick around for a second year, there are glaring holes in Adel’s game that need refining, but like Whitehead before, I can see him stepping up and really maturing as a player. The first thing that Adel needs is more minutes, as he only averaged 12 MPG last season, but with several seniors leaving the program, he should be in line for a major increase in playing time. If you’ve watched him play at all, it is clear that Adel has the tools needed to be a consistent outside shooter, but like most young players, he just needs the reps. I don’t see Adel making massive strides and locking in a late lottery bid right off the bat, but by season’s end, I definitely think he can make a strong push to go mid-first round if he can take the next step in his development.
The “But Kim… Jamal Murray is on” Award
Dennis Smith Jr., G, NC State
Who is Kim and why does she care if Jamal Murray is on? Great question, and well, this award is given to the player who I will go out of my way to watch even if that means forcing my girlfriend to watch them play against University of Albany. Dennis Smith Jr. is that man this year, and I do believe that he has the ability to be the first player taken overall. Smith Jr. is one of the more intriguing prospects to come along in a while. He has the mixtapes that can send fans into a frenzy due to his insane athleticism for someone 6'2 and his over-the-top handles. I expect Smith Jr. to really slow down his style of play due to the increased level of competition at the NCAA level, which I think will make him even more of a commodity for NBA executives. For Smith Jr. to take off as a legitimate contender against Fultz and Jackson for the first pick, he will have to show that he can run a successful offense for the Wolfpack this year. I see Dennis Smith Jr. as a blend of Steve Francis and Baron Davis, players who were two of the more exciting young PGs and could be considered well before their time in terms of athleticism for the position.
Part 2 — Coming later this week or maybe next week.. talk to my editor