The NBA Draft, or this 76ers fan's Super Bowl, is Thursday night at 8:00 p.m. EST in Brooklyn on ESPN.
Torpid groupthink would have you believe that this Draft's influence on the league will be marginal due to a dearth of talent; however, while this group is low on potential superstars (I see just one), it should produce a number of sound starters and role players. There also might be fewer busts than usual, as well.
If I were making personnel decisions for an NBA team utilizing the "best player available" strategy, below would be my organization's Board. This is not a mock draft.
Remember: I'm just a guy who loves and watches entirely too much basketball. I compiled this list by viewing a multitudinous amount of game replays during the college season, digesting player-centric tape (but avoiding highlight reels), poring over stats, consulting tremendous resources (Jonathan Givony, et al. at DraftExpress and Kaiser Lindeman at Deep(ish) Thoughts, who seriously must never sleep), as well as keeping abreast of the Combine.
If you're only concerned with 'Cats, skip ahead to numbers 6, 16, and 18.
For the purposes of this exercise, I ignored injury concerns. Each prospect's name is linked to their bio and statistics.
*TIER 1: THE POTENTIAL SUPERSTAR
1. Ben Simmons (F) Freshman, LSU
I've already shared with you why Simmons will and should go first overall. In part:
"[H]e has a preternatural ability to be one or two steps ahead of everyone else, especially on offense. Before he even takes a pass that is intended to draw a double team, he's already scoped the floor and knows where the the teammate with the most opportune offensive position is located. Simmons "feels" the game on a NBA level already."
Simmons projects as truly "positionless" (he has the tools to defend all NBA positions) and should be an All-Star caliber player by year 3, even if he doesn't shore up his jump shot, which is my only concern about him. To me, Simmons is the only player in this Draft who possesses the requisite combination of talent, skill, and size to reasonably be expected to transform a franchise.
Also, just to settle the issue, dude did just fine without Kentucky as far as his NBA prospects go -- a 19-12-5-2-1 stat line as a freshman playing 30+ minutes would get you drafted out of NJIT just as much as it would out of UK. He produced the first 19-11-4 line since Ron Harper (Miami (OH)) in 1986.
*TIER 2: THE DAY ONE STARTER
2. Kris Dunn (PG) Junior, Providence
Outside of Simmons, there is no other prospect in this Draft more prepared to be inserted into a NBA starting lineup on opening night than Dunn. In fact, given his experience, he's more mentally ready than Simmons.
Dunn is a long athlete with optimal size (6'4'') and quickness for a point guard. The NBA isn't necessarily a pick and roll league anymore, but the most successful offenses rely on it, and Dunn is masterful in his orchestration of the play. He is a gifted and crafty ballhandler/playmaker, and is also the fiercest and steadiest backcourt defender in the '16 class. He's an instinctive rebounder for a guard (5.3 per game), as well.
Dunn's downside is his shot, which isn't great, lacks range, and may be difficult to fix, given his age.
*TIER 3: THE FUTURE STARTERS
3. Brandon Ingram (SF) Freshman, Duke
Ingram's three most apparent positive assets in college do not always translate to NBA success: perimeter shooting when given the opportunity to spot up, measurements (ooooooh, that 7'3'' wingspan), and athleticism. Ingram also possesses the type of advanced court vision, basketball IQ and instinctive passing that you'd expect from a PG.
That said, while the Ingram=Durant comparisons are laughable hyperbole, Ingram should provide a team with a starter if they develop him properly.
4. Dragan Bender (C) Age 18, Croatia
Surprise! People are lazy. Bender often gets compared to fellow lanky Euro shooter Kristaps Porzingis. We can do better than that.
While raw, to be sure, Bender projects as a taller Draymond Green -- a pesky defender who sees pick and rolls coming and starts to switch before the pick is set along with a gorgeous and lethal perimeter shot on offense. Bender is also quick for his size and, after adding some weight and strength, should be a decent rim protector, with a 7'2'' wingspan. While he doesn't appear to be a scoring threat in the post, his ability to pass the ball out to the perimeter will spread the floor. Teams that want to play small ball could do much worse than dropping Bender into the 5 spot.
5. Marquese Chriss (PF) Freshman, Washington
Chriss is one of several 95% upside/5% college production prospects in this group (teammate Dejounte Murray, UK’s Skal Labissiere, KU’s Cheick Diallo, and Syracuse’s Malachi Richardson [me not likey] are the others). Chriss is a top-flight athlete with a rare and unique skill-to-body combination.
His multi-faceted scoring talent, though raw, is apparent. For an 18 year-old who is 6’10’’ and weighs 240 pounds, he shoots well, out to the perimeter, and is advanced in his ability to gain favorable positioning in the interior. He’s also an especially aggressive and productive offensive rebounder.
Chriss’ defensive prowess is a question mark, as he occasionally appeared to be confused, was foul-prone (4.1 per game, playing just 25 minutes!) and seemed disengaged on the defensive boards.
6. Jamal Murray (G) Freshman, Kentucky
In the interest of being objective, I scrutinized Murray more than any other prospect because I did not want my fervent like for his personality to muddle my judgment.
For four reasons, Murray is a top 6 prospect: 1) he is already an elite shooter (no one in this group is more accurate with an open look), and that's a premium skill in today's NBA; 2) he's a versatile scorer, in general; 3) he is only 19; and 4) he possesses an unusually high motor for a top-tier prospect. Murray is a young and hard-working premier offensive basketball player.
Murray's youth and dedicated effort make me hopeful that he can improve on the glaring holes in his game, which mostly have to do with his subpar athleticism and its impact on his defense. Murray threw down several nice dunks during the season, to be sure, but leaping ability is a distraction when it comes to evaluating holistic athleticism.
Murray clearly lacks the lateral quickness to defend NBA 1s and many 2s. Also, his numbers in several advanced defensive metrics that correlate to athleticism (block and steal rate) are disappointing. Among Kentucky's primary players, Murray had the second-worst defensive rating. He will have to work extremely hard in order to be anything more than a minus defender in the NBA. That's not a career killer by any means, but the prototypical backcourt shooter in today's NBA is "3 and D" and Murray is currently missing the latter.
Also, Murray consistently struggles to create his own offense and will need an instinctive and pass-first backcourt partner (like Tyler Ulis was) to reach his NBA potential. He'll also need to work on elevating his shot release, as the ball tends to travel more of a straight line to the rim than an arc.
All things considered, though, the positives outweigh the negatives and Murray should have a shot at cracking a league starting lineup sooner rather than later.
7. Deyonta Davis (PF), Freshman, Michigan State
At just 19 years old, Davis is the best two-way big man prospect in the Draft and is already working with a NBA-ready body at 6'10'' (7'2'' wingspan) and 250 pounds (Anthony Davis size). Despite playing just 18.6 minutes per game, Davis scored 7.5 points per, at 60%FG, from as far out as 20 feet, grabbed 5.5 rebounds, and, most amazingly, blocked 1.8 shots. Those numbers make for eye-popping per 40 stats.
While Davis is already adept at protecting the rim and gaining superior positioning for rebounds, he has considerable work to do on the other aspects of his defensive game, especially his awareness.
8. Wade Baldwin IV (PG) Sophomore, Vanderbilt
My January observations remain the same:
"Standing 6'3'' and weighing 195 pounds, he also has an astounding 6'10'' wingspan and 8'5'' standing reach [. . .] [U]nderstand that the average PG in the 2015 NBA Draft was 6'2'' with a 6'5'' wingspan and 8'1'' standing reach. Baldwin's measurables are similar to what John Wall's were at the 2010 NBA Combine.
Further, Baldwin is an intuitive and proficient passer (producing 4.6 assists per game this season, though his turnovers have increased to nearly three a game) who is a career 45% three-point shooter and 81% free throw shooter. He is also not afraid to follow shots and grab rebounds, averaging 4.1 per contest this season. Baldwin is a ferocious and aggressive defender, both on- and off-ball..."
*TIER 4: SIXTH MAN POTENTIAL
9. Furkan Korkmaz (SG) Age 18, Turkey
Korky is just a sick shooter. He needs to develop more (especially his body; he weighs ~175 pounds) overseas before making an impact in the NBA, but the potential (and some production) is already there for the 18 year-old. Korkmaz' approach to playing the game reminds me a lot of Mario Hezonja's. Hezonja was selected in the lottery last year by Orlando. He's always moving and using his above-average athleticism to get an edge. Most importantly for his stock is his 42% 3FG over the past several years in the TBSL, a premier professional league in Turkey.
By the way, his teammates include future Sixer Dario Saric (#12 in the '14 Draft), future Cavalier Cedi Osman (#31 in 2015), and former Florida Gator and Predator impersonator Alex Tyus.
10. Patrick McCaw (G) Sophomore, UNLV
I'm not just shaking my head that this kid is missing from the big first round mocks, I'm punching myself in the face. McCaw is the best two-way prospect in this Draft and will be the quickest to take to the "3 and D" shooting guard role on a NBA team, regardless of his draft position. Whether you favor college production or upside when evaluating a prospect, you have to love McCaw, because he has an excess of both.
McCaw has the best NBA size (minus weight; he needs to gain some) of the top shooting guards in this group (6'7'' with a 6'10'' wingspan). His defense is already at a NBA level. McCaw is comfortable and effective in control or on his heels on the defensive end, as he is very patient, athletic, and quick. He's a ball hawk, averaging 2.5 steals per game, which was top 10 nationally. His high steal rate also puts him at the top of the SG class from a defensive perspective.
Relative to his peers in the class, McCaw hovers at the top as a general scorer (especially at the rim), but closer to the high-middle as a shooter (37% from 3 is underwhelming, though he was much better from the mid-range). At UNLV, his offensive contributions came more in the form of facilitation -- he averaged 3.9 assists per game (~34 minutes) despite not being his squad's primary ballhandler. For comparison's sake, J. Murray averaged 2.2 and Buddy Hield averaged just 2, both in more minutes than McCaw.
11. Buddy Hield (SG) Senior, Oklahoma
Hield remains enigmatic to me. I wish he was a little bit taller (90s kids, bob your heads). He can obviously shoot, especially from outside (46%), and every team could use some shooting. He won't be required to be the primary ballhandler in the NBA like he was at Oklahoma, a task he struggled with at times, which will allow him to focus more on scoring.
He's not bad in any other area of his game, but he's not outstanding either. His 46-8-7 game against KU had me jumping up and down and thinking his NBA ceiling might be a better-rounded James Harden. Then I watched his horrifying B12CT game performance against WVU (or the NCAAT loss to Villanova) and it felt like I was watching NBA Ben McLemore get exposed.
*TIER 5: BACKUP POTENTIAL
12. Jakob Poeltl (C) Sophomore, Utah
Poeltl is here primarily because of superlative size and college production, as well as the polish and workmanship that he showed last season. He's a very balanced, skilled and collected player on both ends of the floor.
His major downside is strength, as he was pushed around by several "lesser" players last season (see Domantas Sabonis at #24).
13. Jaylen Brown (SF) Freshman, Cal
Selecting Brown early in this Draft is a monumental gamble on upside, but there's admittedly an overwhelming abundance of upside here. What we do know is that Brown not only clearly has the size, measurements (6'7'', 223 pounds, 7 foot wingspan), speed, and athleticism that translate to being a versatile defender, he actually did show flashes of defensive versatility at Cal. I saw Brown defend just about every college position, though he showed the inconsistencies you'd expect from a freshman. While he's not going to be guarding NBA 1s or 5s, he shouldn't have much trouble defending off-guards, other small forwards, or even power forwards in this era's NBA once he develops.
Offensively, Brown really can't shoot; however, he is aggressive in getting to the rim, rakes advantage of his explosive athleticism in doing so, and averaged 21.2 points per 20 minutes last season in Cuonzo Martin's headscratchingly disorganized offense.
14. Henry Ellenson (PF) Freshman, Marquette
Ellenson had a NBA-ready body coming out of high school and he offers an adept combination of scoring and rebounding on the offensive end. He is a dangerous scorer close to the basket, and especially from the mid-range (43%). He also compensates for his lack of athleticism (which severely limits his defensive efficacy) with considerable effort and rare fluidity for such a big body.
15. Timothe Luwawu (SG) Age 21, France
Luwawu comes from overseas older than the typical Euro prospect, but he's a skilled and versatile offensive player and is not a finished product overall. At the risk of being redundant, what I like most about Luwawu is his size and measurements (almost identical to Brown's) and the likelihood that he'll be able to use them to soundly defend multiple NBA positions.
Luwawu is a flashy dunker, extremely quick in transition, and can score, as well. He's a decent scorer at the rim and very much above-average shooting from the perimeter, but alarmingly deficient from the mid-range.
16. Skal Labissiere (PF) Freshman, Kentucky
My thoughts from March haven't changed much:
"[T]he raw 20 year old 7 footer who possesses elite athleticism, rim protection potential, as well as the shooting touch and stroke of a polished shooting guard [. . . a] prototypical stretch 4 who just needs to eat a little bit more and spend some time in the weight room."
17. Dejounte Murray (PG) Freshman, Washington
So so raw. But what a scorer. Ask me tomorrow and I might have Murray in my top 8. More than any other prospect in this Draft, when one watches Murray, the presence of the requisite tools for a great modern NBA point guard is immediately apparent...along with what is usually an utter failure to put them together completely. Murray is another significant gamble on upside.
The only things that Murray does exceedingly well at this point are destroying opponents in transition with his speed and athleticism and getting to the rim with ease. He's not a great shooter and didn't take great care of the ball last season (3.2 turnovers per game), though he has promising handle when composed and and did manage 4.5 assists per game last season. My ability to get a solid grasp on Murray was hindered when he declined to participate at the Combine.
18. Tyler Ulis (PG) Sophomore, Kentucky
A+++ intangibles, solid B NBA skills, D- NBA size. Forget the Isaiah Thomas comparisons. Yes, they are both 5'9'', but Thomas weighs 185 pounds (he was actually heavier at the 2011 Combine, by the way) and Ulis is sub-150. Thomas also overcomes his height with a level of explosiveness and athleticism that Ulis just doesn't possess. It's unfortunate, but Ulis' size is probably the difference between him as a longtime starter in the NBA and a dependable backup.
That said, Ulis is the most effective leader, most proficient passer, and premier playmaker in this class. No one sees the floor like Ulis. Though this era's NBA prefers scoring point guards, there are even current starters in the league whose assist numbers are comparable to their scoring numbers (Ricky Rubio, Elfrid Payton, Rajon Rondo, among others).
His size will hinder his ability as a scorer, but should have absolutely no bearing on his ability to dish out 5-6 assists per game off the bench. He is does not project as a great NBA defender, but his aggressiveness and effort will probably serve him as a plus defender, and his low stance and busy hands could lead to a steal or two per game.
19. Denzel Valentine (G) Senior, Michigan State
Valentine is nearly 23, often painfully slow and an average athlete (not beneficial for a rookie trying to make it as a modern NBA wing) but I can't ignore his historic 19-7-7 line and 44% 3FG last season in East Lansing.
Also, his size (6'6'' with a lovely 6'11'' wingspan) isn't as troubling as some of the smaller shooting guards in this Draft. Still, the speed of the NBA game and athleticism of the competition will limit Valentine's effectiveness.
20. Caris LeVert (SG) Senior, Michigan
Among all scenarios (especially off-the-dribble), LeVert is the best shooter in this Draft and has the mold of a NBA combo guard, though he appears most comfortable playing off-guard. Despite his long-range proficiency (45% in 15 games last season), LeVert is willing to distribute on offense to spread things out (6.4 assists per 40 last season). LeVert also has the physical tools, and solid foundation based on what he can already do, to become an above-average NBA defender.
Note that there are severe injury concerns surrounding LeVert, so his first round selection seems extremely unlikely. The reports on the foot and its resistance to healing seem much more like fire than smoke, as he didn't participate in the Combine or work out for any teams.
21. Cheick Diallo (PF) Freshman, Kansas
Diallo’s hope for one productive year in Lawrence was ruined by the NCAA’s ludicrous foot-dragging regarding his eligibility. He might be too low on this Board.
Most importantly, the upside remains. He’s 6’9’’ with a 7’5’’ wingspan (absolutely insane), 9’ standing reach, and a 35 inch max vert. Individually, those measurements are impressive. Taken together, they’re extraordinary.
As far as actual basketball, Diallo used the Combine scrimmages to his advantage, displaying his athleticism in a competitive context, playing extremely hard, and putting up attention-grabbing numbers, especially on the boards and at the rim.
22. DeAndre' Bembry (F) Junior, St. Joseph's
Bembry is a "jack of all trades, master of none" type at the wing. If he can hone his jumper, he projects as a NBA "glue guy."
23. Malik Beasley (SG) Freshman, Florida State
Beasley's decisionmaking on the offensive end is often frustrating, but when he makes the right decision, he makes opponents pay (consider his efficient 23 point performance against U of L in January). Beasley was also a sound and patient defender during his one season in Tallahassee.
24. Domantas Sabonis (PF) Sophomore, Gonzaga
I considered Sabonis an unremarkable prospect until he manhandled #8 prospect Jakob Poeltl in the NCAAT. Sabonis has incredible body control for a player his size. He plays physically aggressive defense and displays a locked-in approach to rebounding.
*TIER 6: I DON'T KNOW WHAT THE HECK
25. Joel Bolomboy (PF) Senior, Weber State
Bolomboy is the premier, and most instinctive, offensive glassman in the Draft. His athleticism and hook shot stood out during Combine scrimmages, as well.
26. Malcolm Brogdon (SG) Senior, Virginia
Brogdon's strengths are his intelligence, patience, and defensive adaptability. He's a nice and safe prospect, but he's almost 24. The Draft is not an old man's game and neither is being a rookie in the NBA. Zach LaVine has been in the NBA for 2 years already...and he's only 21. Nerlens Noel is 22.
27. Zhou Qui (C) 20 years old, China
Qi is very tall (7'2'') with long arms (7'8'' wingspan) and seems to have passable hand-eye coordination, which equals a first round flyer.
28. Brice Johnson (PF) Senior, North Carolina
Johnson is here entirely based on college production. He averaged a double-double last season but was just as inconsistent as a senior, when it counts, as he was when he made his college debut in 2012.
29. Isaia Cordinier (SG) 19 years old, France
The epitome of a "draft and stash" prospect, Cordinier is an extremely raw and energetic shooter who'd be much higher if he hadn't appeared directionless and somewhat awestruck at last year's Nike Hoop Summit.
30. Gary Payton III (PG) Senior, Oregon State
Payton III not only has basketball pedigree, he is a possible plus defender at the next level who had remarkable per-40 rebound (9.2) and steal (2.9) numbers last season in Corvallis.
Next Five: Demetrius Jackson (PG/Notre Dame), Chinano Onoaku (C/Louisville), Diamond Stone (C/Maryland), Ante Zizic (C/Croatia), Taurean Prince (SF/Baylor)
Notable Omissions: Malachi Richardson (SG/Syracuse), Juan Hernangomez (PF/Spain), Damian Jones (C/Vanderbilt), Thon Maker (C/Athlete Institute), Stephen Zimmerman (C/UNLV)