Five years ago, I wrote my first ever NBA draft preview. Rather than a grading system, I divided the potential draftees into two groups, Bigs and Littles, and tried my best to come up with adequate comparisons. Rtaher than predicting the order they would be selected in, I just ranked them.
Among the ones I got right..
Anthony Davis. “Lock to be the number one pick. And with good reason. He’s as close to Kevin Garnett as we are going to see for a while. He’s a tall, athletic, aggressive defender. In addition, he has shown pretty nice touch on an outside shot.”
Andre Drummond “ I’m not ready to compare Drummond to Dwight, but I can definitely see his career arc mirroring that of Tyson Chandler.”
Terrence Ross. “Could be like Ron Harper. And either Ron Harper. Meaning, he might be high-flying, high scoring Cavs/Clips Ron Harper, or defensive stalwart Chicago Bulls Ron Harper. But he won’t be both. At least not at the same time. You know, like Ron Harper.”
Austin Rivers. “Rivers has a lightening fast first step. He can knock down game winners without his pulse raising a beat. He thinks he’s Kobe Bryant. And that’s his biggest problem. Because what he really is, is a cocky, undersized shooting guard that is praying some team with a lottery pick tricks themselves into thinking he will ever be able to play the point. Sounds to me like another guy who should have stayed in school a few more years to develop his game, Jamal Crawford. The bad news for him? He will never be a two time Finals MVP. The good news? He might win a 6th man award.”
and there were ones I got wrong…
Kendall Marshall. (ranked ahead of Brad Beal.. ouch) “He’s slow. He doesn’t have a great jumper. He might be a liability on defense. But Roy Williams calls him the best passer he’s ever coached. I like Marshall because he is somewhat of a throwback. And the guy he reminds me of is one of the most under rated point guards to ever play in the NBA. Like Mark Jackson, I expect Marshall to be on the winning end of games more often than he is on the losing end.”
Andrew Nicholson. “I really hate to say this, but the closest guy I can compare him to is Paul Pierce. Seeing as Paul Pierce might end up in the Hall of Fame, I will settle on referring to Nicholson as a poor man’s Pierce. Andrew, please don’t make me feel like an idiot for that statement.”
Then there were ones that make me want to stop writing anything. Forever.
Royce White. “I might be being a bit optimistic here, but I think this player out of Iowa State might end up being Ron Artest, only without the crazy.”
And yet, I am so excited about this incoming crop of talent, that I am going to once again, attempt to preview the NBA draft. Rather than dividing the group into Bigs and Littles, I have decided to just rank my top 20 and go through their comparisons.
1. Markell Fultz– He’s a guy that can shoot from all over the floor. Can play bigger than his size. Is in the top 95 percentile of athletes, but not an OH MY GOD Giannis or LeBron or RW type athlete. He can run an offense or make his own offense. When I watch him, he reminds me a bit of Dwayne Wade. But he isn’t quit as explosive. His versatility reminds me somewhat of James Harden, but he is not quite as smooth. I really had to wrack my brain to come up with the proper comparison, but take a look at this line, and tell me you it doesn’t seem like the type of production we are expecting out of Fultz..
Those are Baron Davis‘ stats while he was on the Golden State Warriors. Now, I imagine Fultz is going to be maybe 5-8% better on his shooting percentages, meaning he might score a few more points per game, and be a tad more efficient. But in terms of overall impact on the game, I expect Fultz to be the type of player that can carry a team for a series, and be just as effective on and off the ball, and for periods of time, be the best player on the court, even in elite company.
2. Lonzo Ball– Ball is incredibly difficult to compare to anyone.. Guys that have his passing ability just don’t shoot the ball as well as he does. Guys that are as efficient at shooting either lack the size or playmaking ability of Ball. This leads people to crazy talk, comparing him to hall of famers like Magic Johnson (not a chance.. sorry Lonzo), Jason Kidd (uhm.. not even close to the same type of player- Kidd was stronger, quicker, and smarter but also couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with his jumper for the first ten years of his career) or Penny Hardaway ( if we’re talking pre injury Penny, we are insulting Hardaway’s athleticism, and if we are talking post injury Penny, we are just plain insulting Lonzo). In reality, I think Lonzo is going to be very similar to a player that many are comparing to Fultz, James Harden. Like Harden, his physical tools don’t exactly jump off the screen when you watch him. However, like Harden, he seems to get to where he wants to go most of the time. Also, much like Harden, he is a selfless player. He gets his assists within the flow of the offense, rather than forcing zippy passes like Lebron or Westbrook. He is somewhat enigmatic like the Beard, as he will dazzle you with statistical gems one night, only to disappear at the most inopportune moments the next night. Either way, his skill set might translate to today’s NBA more than any other player in this draft.
3. Josh Jackson– More than any other guy in this draft, Jackson LOOKS like a modern NBA player. He has ideal size and incredible athleticism. The incredible thing about Josh, is that on top of his natural gifts, he goes all out almost the entire game. He can switch onto multiple positions on the defensive end, and when his shot is falling, he can kill in multiple ways on the offensive end. He has been compared to his fellow Kansas Jayhawk Andrew Wiggins, but unlike Wiggins, Josh Jackson is an above average passer for his position. Its a pretty straight forward comparison actually. I think he will be pretty close to Paul George. He may not be able to carry the offensive burden as well as George, and he may never be as good at defense as George can be. But on the bright side, he seems like a pretty hard worker, that isn’t going to screw his team out of any trade leverage by publicly stating he is opting out of his contract an entire year before he has to. So, at least the team that drafts him has that going for them.
4. Jayson Tatum– I really, really wanted to put Deaaron Fox here. But, after watching some extra tape on Tatum, I just can’t put him any lower than 4. And really, maybe I watched too much tape on him, because now I’m starting to wonder if this guy shouldn’t be going number 1. His offensive game is THAT good. I had originally likened him to Shareef Abdur Rahim. Someone with a few clever moves and enough size to be a solid rebounder. And hey, if you can be as good as Rahim, that is in and of itself an acheivement. After all, Abdur rahim is often overlooked, but in his first seven seasons, he averaged 21/8/3 on 46/30/80 splits, numbers 90% of NBA players can only dream about. He was named rookie of the year. Im sure Tatum would be thrilled if you told him that was his destiny. But the truth is, I think he is destined for more. He can straight up put the ball in the hoop. And the ease in which he does so makes me think of one player and one player only- I think he can be the next Carmelo Anthony. The Carmelo Anthony that existed before the NBA nightmare that is the New York Knicks crushed his basketball soul. Tatum is the only player in this draft that has any chance of one day leading the league in scoring.
5. Deaaron Fox– In February, I said Fox would probably turn out to be like Jeff Teague. A guy that could get you 16 and 6, make a couple all star teams, be a solid contributor on a good team, but that he wasn’t really all that special. Then the NCAA tournament happened, and all of a sudden, this guy that had been overshadowed by the scoring feats of Malik Monk through the regular season, showed up, and turned into a vicious, non stop ball of havoc. The last time I felt that way watching a college guard was when Kyle Lowry was the sophmore prowling the perimeter at Villinova. I’ve heard people compare him to John Wall, but I think that is a combination of recency bias paired with Kentucky association. Make no mistake, he is extremely fast, and very long. But he is not even close to the playmaker John Wall is. And as athletic as Fox is, John Wall is just a notch above him when it comes to speed and hops. John Wall is probably one of the best 3 pgs in the NBA and one of the best 5 players in his conference. Fox will never get there, But he will be a guy that other teams fear. One thing I think he might do better than Wall, is play through contact when driving the lane. Depending on the situation he lands in, he might make a few All Star teams, and he is definitely good enough to be the starting pg on a championship team. I had to fire up the delorean and go waaaaay back to find a good comparison, but I believe I found a pair in Rod Strickland and Kevin Johnson. Strickland dealt with a ton of injury issues, and it seemed like he was playing for a different franchise every year, but when he was healthy, and allowed to lead a team, he could make your jaw drop with the way he could outplay supposedly superior guards, much like Fox will be able to do. (ahem.. lonzo ball). Deaaron Fox is our chance to see how good Strickland could have become had he not dealt with nagging injuries his whole career. Kevin Johnson, also dealt with injuries, but certainly proved he could run a championship caliber team when healthy. Fox’s athletic ceiling might be a little closer to Johnson, but he has the playmaking ability of Strickland.
6. Dennis Smith– Go watch Steve Francis highlights. Dennis Smith might be a defensive liability. He might lose focus for stretches of games. He may not always make the extra pass. But the guy is going to put grown men on posters. Earlier, I wrote Tatum might be the only guy from this draft class that could lead the league in scoring. And I still think that is true. But Dennis Smith is going to lead this draft class in highlights, and when they have all retired, I would not bet against Smith having the highest single game point total out of everyone picked in 2017, except for maybe….
7. Malik Monk– The guy is a living heat check. He has 26 foot range, and a beautiful shooting stroke. On top of that, he is very athletic, has ideal size and length, and can play some pretty good defense when necessary. In many other years, he’d be a top 5 selection without question. But, because of the depth of this draft, he may be the most likely to fall further than he should, much like the player he reminds me did back in 2011. The 2011 draft had quite a few steals. Jimmy Butler went 30th. Kawhi Leonard went 15th. Isiah Thomas went 60th(!). And Klay Thompson went 11. But, stuff like that happens when you are just seen as an NBA talent at a school like San Diego State or WSU, that make little noise in the tournament, and don’t exactly scream Basketball powerhouse. But it shouldn’t happen when you are the best player on a national champion Connecticut team, as happened to Kemba Walker. Like Walker, I expect Monk to just continually improve, adjsusting to the size and speed of the NBA game, until one day, you are playing fantasy basketball, and see his name on the first page of overall rank, and you wonder, how the hell is this guy averaging 23/5/4 on 44/40/85 splits? And you will kick yourself for taking Deaaron Fox ahead of him, as he kills you with nights where he shoots 4/19 with no threes.
8. Frank Ntilikina– If I’m being 100% honest, everything I know about this guy came from watching his draft express Strengths video. I didnt even bother watching his weakness video. Because immediately, this guy made me think of Shaun Livingston before he got hurt. And kids, before Livingston got hurt, he was a BADASS.
9. Jonathan Isaac– Isaac, as you have no doubt read over and over again, is the highest risk/reward player in the draft. He has the sort of frame and athletic ability every NBA scout drools over. An almost 7 footer with long arms and great hops. He actually flashed a decent jump shot at FSU, but he was really at his best when going to the rim, either taking advantage of a slower big off the dribble, or by making smart cuts to the basket. On the defensive end, he is very similar to Nerlens Noel, but with less instinctive ability to be in the right place in the right time. He’ll be able to carry your offense for brief stretches, and he is going to be a very helpful defender. He is one of the most difficult guys to compare, mostly because of his height. But if you ignore the fact he is almost seven feet tall, and focus more on the way he will be able to contribute, I’d liken him to Shawn Marion.
10. John Collins– If it were any other era of basketball, John Collins would be a top 5 draft pick. But, in an era where perimter players and small ball dominate, Collins appears to be overlooked. All he did was average 20 and 10 in the ACC as a sophmore. He hustles down the floor, and does so with speed. He isnt afraid of contact. He has a well developed post game. He doesnt have the outside shot that is becoming a requirement of big men, but he can still generate offense. When I watch him play, his combination of height, quickness, and skill reminds me of Jermaine O’Neal, who’s career started off a little slow, but eventually became a six time all star and 3 time all NBA player.
11. Jordan Bell– Yeah, I have him about 20 spots higher than anyone else in America. I don’t care. In a league that craves bigs that can cover the entire floor, Jordan Bell should have GMs salivating. You can find TJ Leafs all day for the veteran minimum. You cannot find Jordan Bells. As for a comparison, lets see, can anyone think of a 6’9” high motor guy that had insane shot blocking skills that could pull down rebounds and chase guards and battle with centers? In January, I could not tell you who Jordan Bell was. But after watching him go beast mode on Michigan, Kansas, and UNC I can tell you exactly who he is. He is Ben Wallace. He’s going to go in the second round, and in five years, he is going to get a max contract while Tyler Lydon hopes to catch on as a 10th man somewhere. Lets just hope his coaches in the NBA teach him to box out on free throws.
12. Lauri Markkanen– I’m not a big fan of tall guys that are known for shooting 3s. Back in 2012, I didn’t like Meyers Leonard, and my non belief in him has been borne out. However, when I started looking at the numbers, it dawned on me that Lauri is not just another Kelly Olynyck. He is not just a good shooter for a big man. His is a good shooter, and he is big, man. Almost more impressive than the numbers he puts up, is the way in which he puts up his shot. It is F-A-S-T and is released from a basically unblockable height. Now, I have seen him compared to Dirk. Nope. Dirk has a post up game that this guy may never even be allowed to develop, considering it just isn’t done anymore. I have seen him compared to Porzingas. Nope. Kristaps can protect the rim. This guy is going to get abused on defense. Considering how much smaller he plays than his size, the closest comparison I can think of is the 6’8” Mike Miller.
13. Justin Jackson– In the NBA, there will always be a job for a guy that can play minutes without getting his team killed. A place holder to give a starter a blow for a few minutes that has the potential to knock down a few shots and play committed defense. Every once in a while, you hope they can catch a little bit of fire, and you might leave them in for extended minutes. On a bad team, they will look like a decent starter, and on a good team they will be helpful bench players. But, Jackson also seems to be a leader, and even though he may never be one of the best 4 players on his team, he will always be a welcome face in the clubhouse. Essentially, he is going to be Jared Dudley. That really is the destiny of Justin Jackson.
14. Derrick White– I like guys that are crafty. Guys that make up for a lack of athleticism with a little bit of panache to their game. Derrick White isn’t going to wow you with killer speed or with unstoppable 27 foot range. He is never going to be the solution at pg for a championship level team, but he could very well run the point for a playoff contender, or come off the bench and give quality minutes to a very good team. My first thought was George Hill, but I don’t think White will ever be the defender Hill can be. However, I do think White has the potential to do the same sort of things Jarret Jack can do.
15. Caleb Swanigan– As of right now, Caleb Swanigan is projected to go in the late first/early second round. And it baffles me. He is 6’10, but has a 7’3” (!!!) wingspan. He led the Big Ten in rebounding and the nation in double doubles. He can play inside and out (44.7% from 3). He may be a little underwhelming when it comes to his vertical, but he punishes people under the rim. He’s a bit of a throwback player. And so the comparison I’m going to give him is a throwback player. When I think of a big guy that can grab boards, and get buckets even though he may appear slow, I think of one guy, Big Smooth himself, Sam Perkins. Perkins never made an all star team, but he was a valuable contributor on 3 finals teams. I believe Swanigan can fill the same type of role, by doing the same types of things.
16. Sindarious Thornwell– Much like Swanigan, Thornwell is higher on my list than most because I actually saw him produce at a high level in college. I know that NBA scouts are paid to see past the college stats, and project what a player might become, but at some point, I think it is better just to simplify the evaluation process and ask, “How does this guy look compared to the people that are on the floor with him in real life?” and if you are asking that question, no one faired better than Sindarious Thornwell. He was the best individual player in the tournament. Like most players that are that good in college but are being projected this low, he lacks the desired athleticsim. But he reminds me of a guy who year after year, teams are going to try to deal for for their playoff push so they can have a tough defender that can stretch the floor on offense. He’s never going to take an NBA defender to the hole off the bounce, but Sindarious Thornwell can definitely be PJ Tucker.
17. Jarrett Allen– Allen is pretty much the opposite of the last two guys mentioned. He is ALL potential. He is a true 7 footer with a 7’6” wingspan. He can jump out of the gym. And yet, he merely averaged 6 boards and 1.5 blocks per game. As of right now, he is projected to go right about here, which would be the Bulls pick. Which is a little convenient for my comparison, as he reminds me of Joakim Noah. It is easy to forget after Noah’s back to back championships and Most Outstanding player fo the Final four award, that , as a freshman, he barely got any playing time at all. In fact, Allen’s freshmen numbers from UT compare favorably to Noah’s sophmore numbers at UF. If his motor is even half of the one that drove Joakim, Allen has the potential to be a prototype rim defender and roll man that is becoming a necessity in the NBA.
18. Frank Mason– Lets face it. This guy is going to get drafted by the spurs. And he is going to become a better version of Patty Mills. And then in 4 years, the Pelicans are going to overpay him to become their starter. He will outplay the rookies that teams keep drafting to replace him, like DJ Augustin. But he will despite his long career and consistent efficient play, he will be remembered like Travis Best, Steve Blake or Kirk Heinrich, the perceived weak link on underachieving teams.
19. Josh Hart– The definition of a servicable player. He’s not going to be great at anything, but he will be slightly above average at everything. The way he plays under control he reminds me a lot of Brandon Roy, but Roy had an incredible first step that Hart lacks. He is likely going to be turned into a 3 and D guy that can sometimes initiate the offense. And the closest comparison I can think of is Evan Turner. Which luckily for him, means at some point a team is going to feel way to confident in his ability to lead a team and overpay him by a lot of money.
20. Dwayne Bacon– As an FSU grad and fan, no player was more thrilling and at the same time more frustrating than Dwayne Bacon this year. He would have stretches where it was clear the other team could not guard him, but before he could take the game over, he would inexplicably stop getting the ball. I’m not sure if it was poor strategy by the coaches or if it was just him being passive. Either way, his lack of involvement in key moments reflected poorly upon him. Which is a shame, because he is physically gifted enough to compete at the NBA level, and skilled enough to thrive in a complimentary role. In any case, though he will never be a star, I can see him having a similar career as Aaron Afflalo. And if Aaron Afflalo, a guy who has averaged 29 minutes a game over a 10 year career, is the 20th best player in a draft, its a pretty good draft.
In five years, I fully expect to look back in shame at all the mistakes I made here. But at least there is no way I can make a prediction any worse than the one I made about Royce White.