The 2017 draft is almost here, and with the league set to meltdown any moment now thanks to all this drama, I felt the need to finalize my Big Board before NBA Armageddon hits. Below are summaries from my previous prospect write-ups, plus my thoughts on the other players who finished in my top 25.
(Stats all from Synergy Sports, hoop-math.com, or Sports-Reference.com).
1. Markelle Fultz, PG, Washington
Dynamic threat to score on all three levels, great point-of-attack player, and a good floor general with a 34.5% assist rate (and his 13.4% turnover rate is pretty damn acceptable considering his massive usage). Fultz was given free-reigns of a sinking ship; can’t blame him for the disaster, as he was surrounded by slow, post heavy bigs and only one above 40% three point threat, so the team’s best chance at success really was to let him overwhelm the adversaries with his talent. Still, it made watching him quite a slog this season. He’s a clear tier above everyone else in the class for me.
Josh Jackson mixes multi-versatile offensive talent plus high-impact defensive ability with a 6’8” body and explosive athleticism. Aside from a worrying hitch in his jumpshot, he’s got a well-rounded skill set and can make a big impact even when his shot’s not falling due to his playmaking ability.
In terms of on-the-court talent, I think Jackson has the second best chance of hitting his ceiling, but he also had two serious off-the-court incidents in the last year that will adjust how teams view him. Keeping Jackson off a big board is understandable given the seriousness of the incidents, and a lot will depend on how the teams, with full information on the events and the ability to interview Jackson about them, view them.
Smith offers an unmatched scoring ability at all three levels compared to the rest of the classes’ second tier of guards. He excels at attacking the rim AND at hitting from three (2 makes per 40 minutes); according to Hoop-math, his percentage of shots at the rim and percent of shots that were 3s were both 37%. If he rounds the whole package together, he could be a very dangerous individual creator at the next level. His natural playmaking ability has become the most underrated part of his game; in a class that contains Ball and Fox, both of whom are lauded as pass-first PGs, it's a trap to consider Smith’s passing game a weakness by comparison alone.
Smith was in a dreadful situation for a premier talent, especially since he was at the focal position. He wasn’t a leader of the team and was far too quiet for his role on the team, but no one else on the Wolfpack tried to take the reins, either. NC State was a massive mess this year, and judging Smith is much more difficult for it.
Isaac might require more patience than most of the forwards in the class, but the payoff could be tremendous; he offers incredible defensive versatility and an untapped offensive game with a developing jumpshot and post skills. While Isaac deferred to much at Florida State, he was also held back in a messy system with too many ball-needy players and not enough volume to go around.
There’s a chance that alpha-male instinct never develops in his game, and if it doesn’t, he’ll end up a strong defensive player whose offense comes through hustle plays and open looks as a 4th option. But if I learned anything from Skal Labissiere last year (13th on my final big board), it’s this: individual creation ability is the hardest skill to predict, especially with hyper-raw players with high-tier NBA toolsets who were severely held back in college. Skal showed less creation ability and the same hesitancy on offense a year ago, and we all know how quickly that changed.
The most unique and exciting player in a class stocked full of both, Ball combines elite passing skills, court vision, and highlight-identifying instincts. He was the maestro of the NCAA’s best offense and offers instincts beyond his collegiate peers. According to Synergy, 35.7% of Ball’s possessions ended in an assist (with 8.7 assists per 40 minutes and a 3/1 assist/turnover ratio), and according to the eye test, I’d swear that should be higher. But aside from his unpredictable passing, so much of his game—from his half-court play to his off-the-hip shot—is dangerously predictable and can be more easily handled by faster, stronger defenses. Ball’s ceiling is tied to his shot transitioning. If he’s truly going to become the generational talent that utilizes those passing skills, he can’t just be a passer.
Only fans are making any argument against Ball that starts with “But his father…” LaVar doesn’t matter to NBA teams.
Tatum is an old-school ISO-predominant scorer with a developing set of perimeter and post moves; nearly a fourth of his shots come in isolation, and while he certainty teetered into black hole territory early in the season, he improved his assist rate and patience within the offense towards the end of the year. Check out my piece linked above for a breakdown of how Tatum compares to other ISO heavy players in terms of shooting success and passing (hint - it’s favorably).
The roadmap to a solid 2nd option in the league is here for Tatum; anything beyond that hinges on him opening up his passing ability, becoming a lights-out three-point shooter, or both.
De’Aaron Fox blends gamebreaking agility, high-end playmaking potential, and disturbingly low shooting percentages into one, dangerously intriguing package. Elite speed and length can make one hell of a player, and Fox isn’t just a physical freak—he’s developing as a half-court point guard and is already a terror on the fast break.
There’s a ton to like about Fox – he orchestrated one of the best offenses in the country in one of the tougher programs to handle, and he’s handled this draft process like a prop. Locker-room leader, no red flags, tough work ethic, he’s got the package. The problem with Fox – that jumpshot isn’t mediocre, it’s bad. When forced to play in the half-court, he was 27.6% on jump shots (19% from three) and his overall points-per-jumpshot sink to 0.64 – 14% percentile. At the collegiate level, the lack of a jumper for such a big offensive cog can be limiting; in the pros, it will affect everything.
If you truly believe his shooting isn’t as bad as the stats say, that’s certainly a fair belief to have for a youngster with plenty of time to improve. But his future team will have to have some patience with his offense, as he’s in for a rougher transition than I think most are expecting.
The class’s most intriguing foreign prospect carries just as much risk and intriguing potential as the rest of his lotterymates. His lead guard skills are still very much in development, from his court vision to his timing on passes when he's on the move. His passer willingness isn't a concern; he's in no way a ball-needy player and looks to make the right play or keep the offense moving.
The real reason to be hyped about Ntilikina is the U18 European Championship; given full control of the offense for the first time in such a professional setting, Ntilikina lead France to the title, won the tournament’s MVP award, and averaged 15.2 points and 4.5 assists on 31/62 from the field and 17/29 from three. Ntilikina flashes the complete game the Kings would want in a point guard—ability to play quick in the open court, developing decision making and passing, and the makings of deep range.
Where Fox was the brains of Kentucky’s high-powered offense, Monk was the 1A scoring option and was given a green light by Coach Calipari; he averaged 18.3 FGA and a staggering 8.6 3PA per 40 minutes, making his 45% shooting stroke a damn surprising bit of efficiency considering his hot-and-cold playstyle. He’s more than just a spot-up shooter; he’s capable off the bounce, on the move, and with a hand in his face. Pretty much any which-way the defense could move him, he had a way to get a good shot anyways.
Outside of the shot, Monk has a ton of developing still to as a defender and as a rim-runner. While Monk can play as a secondary handler, I can’t buy into any idea that he’s a sneaky point guard pickup. Watch the few games where Fox was injured, and you can see Monk is quick to make the same reads repeatedly to the delight of the defense.
Anunoby is a dynamic defensive prospect with solid reasons for optimism on offense. The shooting breakout Indiana had hoped for didn’t translate, and he can’t be a 3-and-D player if that shot consistency doesn’t appear. He’s also coming off a serious knee injury, and may not be ready by the start of his rookie season. He’s the riskiest of my top 10 prospects, but as his defensive instincts sharpen and match his physical abilities, he’s a guaranteed impact player on one end of the floor.
The best shooter in the class, Markkanen stands over 7’0 tall and offers a tantalizing offensive weapon for any squad the modern NBA. He’s got a major need—but also plenty of time—to work on a down-low game, improve his ball-handling and playmaking instincts, and figure out how to do big man stuff. He shouldn’t be expected to carry a team himself, but a smart offensive squad can make him a dynamic scoring option.
Mitchell is a tough, gritty defensive guard who plays the position bigger than his 6’3 height would suggest he can. He’s improved as a shooter, although just how much might be hidden after two-month hot streak. Athletic, explosive, and super lengthy, it’s easy to see why a lottery team might fall in love with him, even if his offense (especially his success at the rim) needs improvement.
As a secondary ball-handler, Mitchell shows promise but not a ton definitive. A 1.5/1 assist-to-turnover ratio is solid for his position, as is his 16% assist rate, but any real NBA-level playmaking skills were either lacking from his game this year or hidden by his role in the offense. Teams shouldn’t draft him thinking they’re getting a for-sure secondary playmaker, let alone a PG disguised as a SG.
13. Luke Kennard, PG/SG, Duke
Even for me, a fan of Kennard, this seems high for a 6’5 guard with average athleticism, lack of great length, and less-than-idea strength. Kennard will never be able to play the NBA point on defense because he’ll be run over by 99% of point guards in this league, and he’s not gonna stand pat against most shooting guards either.
What he lacks in the strength, size, or twitch-quick athleticism, he makes up for in basketball IQ. And this isn’t Nik Stauskas “hey he was a pretty 2nd ball-handler handler, he could take most college players off the dribble” level-IQ; this is total offensive-package awareness. Kennard consistently made the right offensive decisions, understood his limitations at the point of attack against higher-level opponents (and still made some great moves, like this one), and saved Duke’s season – repeatedly. He’s going to be an solid third guard who can effect just about every part of the offense. He’ll provide great shooting and a solid driving ability and a willingness to play with and without the ball.
Jackson’s presence as the primary weapon on a championship team speaks enough about how capable a player he is – Jackson turned a big shooting weakness into a strength just in time to help UNC win it all. He’s a smart, aware, tough player who any coach would like to have on an offense. The biggest concerns about Jackson are on defense, where his physical profile holds back his otherwise competitive edge. A safe-floor, lower ceiling player than many in the class, it’ll be interesting to see how teams value his skills over other higher-potential players in his draft range.
15. John Collins, PF, Wake Forest
The teens-to-mid-20s of this draft is painful and difficult to slog through. I blame no one for having the players listed from 15-22 in any order - this class might have depth in the 25-40 range, but I don’t love the value in this spot. As the weeks have gone on, I’ve fallen out of love with the idea of the Kings trading back, if only because I much prefer their options at 10.
Collins is a big man out of time - post player with strong footwork, a multitude of post moves, and a physical style of play and willingness to muscle up to any competition. 45.6% of his offense came on post ups, and he shot 52.6% on such plays - good for the top 10 percentile in the country. He snagged the #1 PER ranking in college basketball, all while averaging 28.8 PPG and 14.8 RPG per 40 minutes.
Whereas ten (or even five) years ago, Collins would have been a top pick, he’s now a late-lottery pick (if that) because he doesn’t offer the new-age big versatility. He’s gonna want to play small-ball center, but doesn’t offer the defensive value to really make the position work; he was far less confident and competent at defense than on offense, and although he showed some ability as a rim protector, he doesn’t have length to anchor for big minutes. And while his 74.5% FT success is promising, he’ll need to add way more stretch to his game (4 total jumpers all year in the half-court). I don’t love his fit with Sacramento, but apparently they’re intrigued enough to have him in twice...
16. T.J. Leaf, PF, UCLA
One of the more versatile offensive big men in the class, Leaf offers strong shooting skills (46.4% on jump shots in the half court, and 48% on threes with 27 makes), solid post success (96th percentile on post-up plays), and a 13.2% assist rate. He and Lonzo Ball had a major symbiotic relationship, and help helped stretch the floor, kept the ball moving, and took advantage of his ability to outrace other bigs in transition (89th percentile in transition success, with a 69.8% FG). While Leaf needs serious beefing up to battle against NBA bodies, he’s not going to be left behind athletically; he’s quick, explosive, and has fine size and length for the position.
Defensively, Leaf is a different story; no one on UCLA gave much of a damn about defense, and he’ll be out of position defensively wherever you slot him in the NBA.
17. Justin Patton, C, Creighton
Patton is a well-rounded big man who was having a strong season before the Bluejays lost their starting point guard/their only ball-handler; Patton’s number’s dropped from there, except for a quietly excellent game against Xavier in the conference tourney where he showcased his growing offense.
Much like Zach Collins further down my list, Patton’s stats are efficient but the volume is low; 8/15 from three, and only 9/33 jump-shots in the half-court. He showed a strong ability to take the ball away from the basket and blast past defenders; cuts were his most used offense, and he finished with a 73.8% field goal mark (84th percentile). He also was a force in transition, snagging 1.46 points per possession (96th percentile). He needs to learn to face physicality better than he did, but he was better in the later contests and was a solid rebounding force (9.8 per 40, 19% defensive rate) and rim protector (2.3 blocks per 40, 5.9% rate).
18. Semi Ojeleye, SF, SMU
As damn versatile and balanced scorer, Semi showed a solid post-game (and some great dunks) with great outside success (2.1 threes a game on 42.4% shooting). Semi finished in the top third percentile for spot-up, post-up, cuts to the basket, pick-and-roll, and ISO success, according to Synergy. He’s an energetic, hard working kid with a great motor and a fun-to-watch play-style.
Biggest concern for Semi will be his defensive positioning; he’s certainly got the strength to match up with bigs, but not the size, and while he was quick enough to handle some guards in college, I worry about that at the next level. Semi finished with just .5 steals and .5 blocks per 40 minutes, which are crazy low numbers.
I’m ready to be wrong on Collins - a ton of smarter scouts and armchair scouts love his potential as a stretch 5, rim protector, and transition big man. But if you’re counting on his jumpshot as a major part of his offensive value in the NBA, you have to be warry - 10/21 from three/14 of 26 on jump shots attempted in the half-court are incredibly small sample sizes. He’s less ready on defense than I think many expect - aside from his blocking (9.8% rate is FANTASTIC), he wasn’t great when matched up with similarly-sized, more physical opponents and had serious trouble staying out of foul trouble. He rose up my board significantly after two strong games to end the season, but putting a lottery label on him seems overly rich to me given the talent surrounding him at that range.
20. Harry Giles, PF, Duke
God, I have no idea what to think of Giles. I never watched this elusive high school tape that made him the top prospect, and the only player I ever saw at Duke was one that made me go “man, he doesn’t look right.” So, why do I have him this high? Group think? Yeah, probably that. *Moves him down* I’ll trust an NBA doctor’s opinion on him way more than my own eyes.
The leader of the non-lottery tier of point guards, Evans led a lackluster Oklahoma State team to NCAA tournament berth with excellent efficiency. His passing and court awareness are both excellent, but his scoring ability at the NBA level is less of a sure thing and his lack of size will limit him on defense.
22. Jarrett Allen, C, Texas
Total project center with some exciting upside; great length (7.5.5), good bulk, and the ability to cover ground in a hurry. If his ceiling hits, he could become one beast of a rim protector in a DeAndre Jordan-lite role (1.9 blocks per 40 seems low for this comparison, but then again, Jordan wasn’t Jordan in college [2.5 blocks per game]). At this point, he’s still not an exceptionally aware player on either end.
His post-skills need work; doesn’t show a wide-enough tool-set when he gets the ball down-low, as he was in the mid-40s percentile for post-up success. He got a green light to try and showcase some offensive range, but he was just 24 of 68 on jumpers in the half-court.
23. Thomas Bryant, C, Indiana
I’ve been foolishly high on Thomas Bryant since last year, but he’s more well-rounded and proven than most of the big men in this range. I think he’s got a better shot to reach a solid NBA bench role than many of the others around him just because he can shoot (36 made jumpers in the half-court, with 23 threes), rebound (9.5 per 40), pass (9.8% assist rate) and protect the rim (5.7% block rate) at solid clips. He’s also a damn fighter, and the only enjoyable part of the Indiana program after OG’s knee injury was watching Bryant battle his heart out. Team’s will run pick and rolls at him all day long, but I’ll take guys with Bryant’s motor any day of the week.
His biggest weakness is he’s not considered an NBA-level athlete; not hyper explosive and takes some time to get up there, but he was certainly improved towards the end of last year. He’s got near-ideal size (6’10) and length (7’5 wingspan) for the position.
24. Ivan Rabb, PF, California
I want to like Rabb like we all did last year, but everyone liked Rabb because he flashed the possibility of a capable jumper. That never came - 30.8% on spot-ups, and just 22/58 on jumpers in the half-court. He can rebound the hell out of the ball (12.9 per 40), he’s scary in transition (80% field goal), and he was solid enough around the basket. But if he can’t stretch the floor or protect the rim (3.3% block rate), what is his realistic ceiling? Jason Thompson?
25. Derrick White, G, Colorado
Total draft sleeper; great story for an unheralded kid who starred at DII level before earning a D1 scholarship at Colorado. Isn’t going to beat any opponents with speed or explosiveness, but he’s got excellent size (6’5), solid court vision (28.6% assist rate, 1.8/1 assist/turnover ratio), capable range (39.6% on threes with 1.7 a game) , and a deadly pick-and-roll ability (46.5% shooting, 88th percentile).
Others meriting consideration: Frank Jackson, G, Duke; Tyler Lydon, SF/PF; D.J. Wilson, F, Michigan; Jordan Bell, F, Oregon; Josh Hart, SG, Villanova
Guys I’m REALLY low on as 1st round picks: Bam Adebayo, C, Kentucky (if he can’t protect the rim, what’s his value?); Ike Anigobu, C, UCLA (What does he do at an NBA level? What CAN he do at an NBA level?); Terrance Ferguson, G, Australia (Dude had 12 games with above 15 minutes, and 8 with over 20 - how did he only have FOUR games with above ten points? Those stats are incredibly bland - 4% rebounding rate? .7% steal rate for a 3&D guy? 5% assist rate to 16% turnover rate?).
Top-20 Mock Draft: 1. PHI - Markelle Fultz; 2. LAL - Lonzo Ball; 3. BOS - Jayson Tatum; 4. PHO - De’Aaron Fox; 5. SAC - Josh Jackson; 6. ORL - Jonathan Isaac; 7. MIN - Malik Monk; 8. NYK - Dennis Smith Jr.; 9. DAL - Frank Ntilikina; 10. SAC - Donovan Mitchell; 11. CHA - Justin Jackson; 12. DET - Lauri Markkanen; 13: DEN - Zach Collins; 14. MIA - Luke Kennard; 15. POR - John Collins; 16. CHI - OG Anunoby; 17. MIL - Jarrett Allen; 18. IND - Harry Giles; 19. ATL - Justin Patton; 20. POR - Semi Ojeleye