"We tell ourselves stories in order to live." — Joan Didion (The White Album)
2017’s group is enormously deep and talented, but where it really scintillates is its point guards. ‘17’s floor generals are, unquestionably, the best I have seen since I began paying close attention to the Draft (~20 years). Only 2005 comes close — Chris Paul, Raymond Felton, Julius Hodge, Deron Williams, Nate Robinson, Jarrett Jack, etc. No, don’t argue with me about 1999! Too top-heavy; it was really just Baron Davis, Steve Francis, and Andre Miller.
For recent context, I’d put my #1 ‘16 PG (Kris Dunn) at a tie for the #5 PG in this class. I’d put ‘15 #1 (D’Angelo Russell) alone at #4. Then ‘14 #1 (Elf Payton) and ‘13 #1 (Michael Carter-Williams) both at #6.
So let’s jump into my abridged ‘17 Big Board. I know you’re wondering...who’s this year’s Patrick McCaw (my #10 last year; drafted #38; sweet early and qualified vindication...playoff minutes and a big appearance in Game 5 of the Finals for GSW!) in the Martinez Draft pantheon?!?!
Work and preparing for Baby Gimel have not stopped me from watching game replays and evaluating prospects, but my notes are shoddy and I haven’t had enough time to write my typical ~6,000 word Draft post. Oh well.
TIER 1: POTENTIAL SUPERSTARS
1) Markelle Fultz (G) Washington
A highly skilled natural combo guard, Fultz can score from anywhere and operated at a NBA level in the pick & roll as an 18 year-old in the Pac-12 last year. Also, the physical tools (especially height and wingspan) are there, along with the athleticism. Additionally, he possesses the most diverse and versatile handles in the Draft.
If he lands anywhere in the lottery that’s not Boston (unless they move Isaiah Thomas), I’m exceedingly confident that he’ll immediately post 20-6-5 lines nightly.
2) Josh Jackson (SF) Kansas
Jackson is the best polished/potential two-way prospect I have watched since Paul George in 2010 and definitely the best defensive prospect in this group. He’s also one of the premier passers in this Draft, PGs included. He’s basically excellent at everything but shooting (especially from the free throw line), though you wouldn’t have known it watching the KU-UK game in January.
I’m not a huge NBA comparison guy, but I’ll go for them if they feel spot-on. Jackson looks just like Andre Iguodala coming out of Arizona in 2004 to me.
3) De’Aaron Fox (PG) Kentucky
The hardest decision I faced this year was choosing between Fox and Dennis Smith at this spot; ultimately, I realized I was overthinking it.
To be very general, Fox is an ultra-elite defensive prospect, while Smith is an ultra-elite offensive prospect. Conversely, I have more concerns about Smith on the defensive end than I do about Fox on the offensive end. So, Fox it is.
I LOVE HIM, shooter or not, and even though it remains to be seen how putting a few very necessary pounds on his frame will affect his game.
Premier handle, passing, penetration skills, agility, and speed are already there and I think he can stay in front of and frustrate any G in the NBA on the defensive end. He’s also the most passionate prospect in the Draft and one of its most hard-working. Those things translate into NBA leadership very well.
4) Dennis Smith (PG) North Carolina State
Even while basically still in late recovery from a 2015 torn ACL, Smith was one of the most explosive athletes and scorers in college basketball, if not the most explosive. Nobody in this group gets to the rim or flies like Smith can. He also projects well as a perimeter shooter in the NBA. I see no offensive weaknesses for Smith that can’t be corrected in very short order under a NBA coaching staff.
Defensively, though, he is a question mark. His short arms (I see 6’3’’ cited most often) and lack of effort in college on that end are concerning. That said, his quickness and athleticism should mean that he can be an above-average (if limited positionally) defensive player if he can become engaged.
TIER 2: DAY ONE STARTERS
5) Jonathan Isaac (F) Florida State
The most...unrefined prospect in the Draft, with an enigmatic offensive game outside of a workable jumper, I have Isaac here because of his length (6’11’’ with no official wingspan measurement in 2017, but you can just see it’s impressive), athleticism and defensive versatility.
In a landscape lettered with unknowns, I might be more confident about Isaac making a NBA All-Defensive Team by Year 5 than any other hypothetical in this Draft. His inside-outside defensive projection is reminiscent of Nerlens Noel’s; he can man the protected area just as well as he can patrol the perimeter and he blocks shots (1.5 per game in 26.2 minutes) and picks balls off (1.2) at a high rate. He’s also quicker than Noel, so he should be able to adequately defend each NBA position when needed.
6) Frank Ntilikina (PG) Strasbourg [France]
It's pronounced Nee-lee-kee-na, FYI. The 6’5’’ Frenchman is the second-youngest viable prospect in this group (nearly 19; UCLA’s Ike Anigbogu is just over 18.5) and there is legitimate talk that he has an unprecedented (for a PG) 7’1’’ inch wingspan. That’s 3 inches longer than Wade Baldwin’s was last year, which I went bonkers over in my ‘16 Board (linked above).
In addition to the age and measurable pluses, he’s also a fast-moving, top-shelf athlete who made the most of his limited minutes (18.3) last season in LNB Pro A, especially as a shooter.
I wasn’t able to find much video of him playing defense, so I have limited insight there. But I haven't read any complaints in the Draft analysis ether, and he has the physical tools on that end. Once again, the wingspan. He already has the speed to guard any position, but with arms that long, he could defend a lot of NBA 3s and small ball 4s.
7) Jayson Tatum (SF) Duke
The most inoffensive lottery prospect in years, Tatum is above average in everything but masterful at nothing except free throw shooting — 85%. The star potential is low, but he could have the most sustainable and consistent career of the lottery prospects.
8) Lauri Markkanen (PF) Arizona
A stretch scorer and pick-and-pop maestro at 7’, Markkanen’s glaring weaknesses (rebounding and defense; important, I know) can be overlooked and developed on the fly if he’s making 40%+ of his 3s on 5+ attempts per game. Which appears almost certain based on his college perimeter scoring numbers and how he facilitated them (ballhandling, footwork, spacing, moving well off-ball). Gorgeous shot.
TIER 3: 6TH MEN, PART 1
9) Malik Monk (SG) Kentucky
I haven’t read anything more exhaustive and accurate about our beloved shooter than Marc Whittington’s piece from Liberty Ballers in April.
READ IT. There’s really nothing else to be said.
TIER 4: LIL BUSTY
10) Lonzo Ball (PG) UCLA
I don’t care about his LaVar’s influence. I’ve just never been high on him. The former Bruin only projects as potentially elite in transition offense.
An underwhelming athlete, I doubt he’ll be able to find the space in the NBA to get that goofy shot off and he’ll be routinely exposed as a poor one-on-one and pick & roll defender.
TIER 5: 6TH MEN, PART 2
11) Zach Collins (C) Gonzaga
People talk more about the 7-footer’s scoring & shooting (65%FG, 74%FT, and 47%3FG [though on limited attempts]) than his defense, but I have him here primarily due to his rim protection potential. Though the Zags feasted on inferior WCC competition for most of the season, I watched him block 2 shots and alter at least 5 others in the December win over Arizona. He also recorded 18 blocks in 6 NCAAT games (including 6, to go along with 13 rebounds, against South Carolina in the F4), which is pretttty prettttttty good.
12) John Collins (PF) Wake Forest
How about this 31-15 performance at Duke against Tatum and Amile Jefferson? Shooting 63% in the ACC, he was the Deacons’ leading scorer by 3 points (19.2 per)...but was only third on the team in minutes (26.6...the per 40 scoring is ludicrous), took the second most shots, and attempted 0 3s. Speaking of the 3s, if Collins had any semblance of a shot outside 10 feet (and a little bit more awareness; he’s very raw there), I’d have him top 5.
Collins can also block shots and gets to the line at an impressive rate (6.7 attempts per game in just 26.6 minutes).
13) OG Anunoby (SF) Indiana
A lockdown defender who sports a 7’2.25’’ wingspan and can guard NBA 2s, 3,s, 4s, slower 1s, and small ball 5s is an absolute steal in the middle of the first. Remember, this dude’s stifling defense on Jamal Murray was why IU beat UK in the ‘16 NCAAT.
14) Jarrett Allen (C) Texas
Allen is so raw and made just 56% of his free throws in college, but the size (6’10’’, 7’5’’ wingspan), rim protection/rebounding potential and effectiveness within 5 feet of the rim on offense (that hook!) are worth the flyer.
No prospect was hurt more by his college team’s deficiencies than Allen. As an aside, I truly believe he would have been a top 5 pick had he come to Kentucky. UK’s offense would have provided more spacing (Monk’s, Willis’, and Mulder’s perimeter shooting) for him to work and he could’ve been given C responsibilities while Adebayo did PF thangs. Those circumstances would have better showcased his abilities.
15) Donovan Mitchell (SG) Louisville
Like Tatum, Mitchell is a "jack of all trades, master of none" type, except that he’s a much better athlete and a markedly worse ballhandler. The latter is obviously a problem, as Mitchell is a G.
In college, the highlight reel dunks made you forget about the recklessness with the ball. That’s not going to happen in the NBA today. But there’s a lot to work with here.
TIER 6: SOLID ROTATION PLAYER POTENTIAL
16) Justin Patton (Creighton), 17) Tyler Lydon (Syracuse), 18) Edmond Sumner (Xavier), 19) Harry Giles (Duke), 20) Justin Jackson (North Carolina), 21) D.J. Wilson (Michigan)
TIER 7: I DON’T KNOW WHAT THE HECK
22) Terrance Ferguson (Australia), 23) Semi Ojeleye (Southern Methodist), 24) Isaiah Hartenstein (Germany), 25) TJ Leaf (UCLA), 26) Jawun Evans (Oklahoma State), 27) Wesley Iwundu (Kansas State), 28) Devin Robinson (Florida), 29) Josh Hart (Villanova), 30) Caleb Swanigan (Purdue)
NEXT TEN (NO ORDER)
Kyle Kuzma (Utah), Frank Jackson (Duke), Luke Kennard (Duke), Ivan Rabb (Cal), Rodions Kurucs (Latvia), Bam Adebayo* (Kentucky), Dillon Brooks (Oregon), Kobi Simmons (Arizona), Jordan Bell (Oregon), Ike Anigbogu (UCLA)
*If you want my Adebayo take, it’s completely unoriginal. The poor man’s Tristan Thompson comparison that I’ve repeatedly is fairly apt, in my estimation. Cal's optimistic pronouncements be damned, I will be very surprised if Bam is selected in the top 20. Not Thon Maker shocked, but surprised.
VOTE IN THE POLL!!!!!!!
And explain your choice in the comments below.
See you next Thursday evening.