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2017 First-Round Big Board

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*DISCLAIMER* I haven’t seen enough of or read enough about Anzejs Pasecniks, the 7-foot-1 (or 7-foot-2!) Latvian power forward who’s been shooting up boards in the past week or so, and thus I felt it unfair to rank him. Here’s the skinny, though: He’s huge, rail-thin, agile, and perimeter-focused. I think you know where his comparisons are going, and it ain’t Allen Iverson. But despite the obvious similarities, he is a bit smaller than Kristaps, and a lesser-ranked prospect off of his more limited success in Spain. Also, Pasecniks and Porzingis are the same age, which means KP was both doing what he did in the ACB, and entering the NBA, two years younger than his countryman. Unless the tape really wowed me, it’s unlikely Pasecniks would have cracked my top 29.


1 – Markelle Fultz, PG, Washington, 19 – 6'4, 195, 6'10” wingspan

Top-level scoring ability at all three levels; heady feel for the pick & roll, combined with Westbrook-like ability to pull up regardless of the direction his body is moving, opens up the pass, and lets him power to the rim. A good athlete, but not genetic mutation level like Westbrook or Wall. Good enough shooter and long enough defender that he can be deployed as a 2 in certain lineup configurations. Can get caught flat-footed against good ball movement, but averaged over a steal and block per game and at 19, this will be the first time he’s received proper defensive instruction.


Biggest question: Defensive awareness

Comparison: George Hill, Brandon Roy

2 – Lonzo Ball, PG, UCLA, 19 – 6'6, 190, 6'7” wingspan

Such easy shooting range to 27 feet, and when you defend him out there, he WILL find the open man with the space created. Ran offense that was 4th in pace and 1st in efficiency among major-college teams, only the 7th team to be in the top 20 in both categories since 2000 – but he had multiple elite shooters around him: chicken or egg? Will need to hunt his own shot more in NBA (particularly in midrange) to give himself the room to launch threes and to spring teammates. Wonky, low/slow release jumper may be a problem, but for now it goes in. Literally never pulled up or scored from midrange at UCLA, no experience running NBA-style sets. Transcendent passer and playmaking lead guard, and a magician in the open floor. REALLY unique by stats, style, and historical standards.


Biggest question: Scoring off pick & roll

Comparison: Shaun Livingston, Jason Kidd

3 – De’Aaron Fox, PG, Kentucky, 19 – 6'4, 171, 6'7” wingspan

Fastest player in the draft, he’s an electric athlete with explosion and change-of-direction, will be able to get into the lane – and to the line – against NBA defenders. Can’t hold his form as a shooter, workouts didn’t answer any questions about his consistency from deep. His (relatively) high FT percentage gives hope that if he picks a motion, just purely taking more threes will help the offense. Bulldog of a defender: stays low, gets physical, uses his chest, and chips at the ball.


Biggest question: Jumper

Comparison: Elfrid Payton, John Wall

4 – Josh Jackson, SF, Kansas, 20 – 6'8, 203, 6'10” wingspan

I’m not as sold on his future ballhandling and playmaking as a lot of people seem to be, but it’s obviously the jumper that keeps him from being the top pick. The likelihood of him growing a shot and unlocking this Kawhi level to his game is so low to me that I won’t entertain the notion, but he does so many other things so well. He will create a couple of points a game out of nothing, just by back-cuts and off-ball movement that forces switches and punishes a half-step of laziness. He’s the best on-ball defender among wings in this class, though right now his slender frame and limited length will see him struggle to hold his own if he slides up to defend 4s as often as he did in college.


Biggest question: Jumper

Comparison: Justise Winslow, Josh Howard

5 – Jayson Tatum, SF, Duke, 19 – 6'8, 204, 6'11” wingspan

Most pro-ready scorer in the draft – obviously depends on what team he lands on, but he should be right there with Fultz for best ROY bets. Just OK from deep right now, but incredibly smooth form, and a terrific FT/midrange shooter, so I’d expect three-point range to come sooner rather than later. Will hurt less defensively at 4 than 3, which probably opens up his ballhandling/playmaking game; will not be much of a dribbler/attacker against quicker/twitchier defenders.


Biggest question: Improving quickness/athleticism

Comparison: Danny Granger, Paul Pierce

6 – Malik Monk, SG, Kentucky, 19 – 6'3, 197, 6'4” wingspan

Of the top guys, he’s the highest-variance, and the most likely to fall in the draft. The short arms REALLY hurt him, as he was terrible defensively this year, and this is one less weapon you can try to project him to have against twos at the next level. But he’s a lights-out shooter and a monster athlete – not always the most confident dribbler, but he can attack a closeout and once he does, isn’t scared to go straight up through the trees at the rim. Can score 15+ points in his sleep, but has enough shortcomings that he’ll probably come off the bench and cross-match to do it. This ranking is kind of a hedge: he’s probably closer to 8 or 9 on my board in reality. But there’s a nonzero chance he develops competent PG skills, which would shoot him up to about 3.


Biggest question: Is he stuck at shooting guard?

Comparison: Lou Williams, CJ McCollum

7 – Dennis Smith Jr., PG, NC State, 19 – 6'3, 195, 6'3” wingspan

Where you fall on the “Russell Westbrook as a floor leader” debate illuminates how you’ll feel about Smith. He won’t probe a defense and attack soft spots just to run teammates into layups like Fultz, or telepathically sending a cutter open before the defense sets like Ball, but the guy breaks his opponents down with sheer physicality and force of will. He shot well from three, and got to the line seemingly whenever he wanted, but can pound the air out of the ball, and took way too many long twos. On a team that always played with two bigs and poor spacing, will get to the rim easier at the next level, and had a fairly high adjusted assist rate (6.8 per 40) considering his teammates. And don’t forget, this guy was barely a year off of a torn ACL at the start of the season.


Biggest question: Attitude/leadership

Comparison: Steve Francis, Baron Davis

8 – Jonathan Isaac, PF, Florida State, 19 – 6'11, 205, 7'2” wingspan

As far as your skinny, stretchy, project types go, Isaac actually has a well-defined high floor as a good role player. He’s the biggest and the longest of the trio of top forwards, a solid shooter, and has the rare combination of guard feet and center reach to make defensive coaches drool over his versatility. He had a better block rate than most big men, and a better steal rate than most swingmen. But I don’t see the likelihood of hitting his considerable upside, at least not to the level others seem to. Right now, he’s not a particularly good shooter, and though he flashes good form with a high release even for his size, he’s not aggressive enough, and too many of the shots he does take are bad ones, to convince me that he’ll definitely be a plus player on that end. And while his length is great and will serve him well in the NBA, he’s not a ‘wingspan freak’ that would automatically project him as a plus defender (Durant, for example, was 6'11 with a 7'5” wingspan coming out of Texas at 19).


Biggest question: Jump shot consistency/scoring mentality

Comparison: Dragan Bender, Andrei Kirilenko

9 – Zach Collins C, Gonzaga, 19 – 7'0, 230, 7'1” wingspan

These next few picks are where this year’s draft starts separating into true role players, and guys with higher upside but lower probability. Still 18 when the season began, and playing next to and behind fifth-year giant Przemek Karnowski on a team that finished six points away from a title, Collins made the most of his limited minutes, looking every bit the part of the modern-day NBA center. In just 17 minutes per game, he shot 65 percent from the floor and 48 percent from behind the arc; obviously, those will both come down considerably in more attempts, but they show a skill level and touch both inside and out that isn’t disappearing. He also finished second in the WCC with 1.8 blocks despite the playing time restrictions. In the Final Four, he put up 14 points, 13 boards, and six blocks in just 23 minutes, hitting the game-saving three (albeit thanks to a lucky roll) in a tight win over South Carolina, though his title game followup against UNC saw him go quiet, posting 9 points and 6 rebounds in just 14 minutes.


Biggest question: Defending against physicality

Comparison: Jason Smith, Cliff Robinson

10 – Frank Ntilikina, PG, France, 18 – 6'5, 180, 7'0” wingspan

It’s really hard for young players to gain the trust of European coaches, so when looking at Ntilikina’s numbers overseas, it’s more important to look at the age, and how he got those numbers. Playing in Strasbourg’s backcourt with three Eurocup veterans, Ntilikina shot 52 percent from two, and 43 percent from three this season, wedging his way into the starting lineup by the time the playoffs rolled around. Surrounded by age-appropriate, NBA-prospect talent, Ntilikina led France to the 2016 FIBA U18 Euro Championship, averaging 15.2 points, 4.5 assists, and 2.2 steals en route to the MVP trophy – and he’s a better passer on tape than he is in the box score. Also, he’s 18, 6'5, and with a 7-foot wingspan. That seems important.


Biggest question: Lack of tape

Comparison: Dante Exum, Evan Turner

11 – Donovan Mitchell, SG, Louisville, 20 – 6'3, 210, 6'10” wingspan

Will be a defensive stopper, and can even effectively guard average-sized threes. Great leaper and transition scorer, can hit open shots but takes too many when guarded – that’ll get coached out of him quickly.


Biggest question: Point guard skills for 12 minutes a game

Comparison: Tony Allen, Marcus Smart

12 – Lauri Markkanen, PF, Arizona, 20 – 7'0, 225, 7'0” wingspan

Abysmally poor rebounder and defender, but such a deadly shooter at that size can open up an offense in so many ways. Not a super-quick decision-maker, but fluid and coordinated enough that he can slide his way into creative scoring opportunities inside the arc when the defense is scrambling.


Biggest question: Toughness and physicality

Comparison: Spencer Hawes, Channing Frye

13 – OG Anunoby, SF, Indiana, 19 – 6'8, 215, 7'2” wingspan

Both he and the next guy are complete hedges because of injury. If the initial prognosis that Anunoby should be back by mid to late next season is still on track, then I’ve got no problem bumping him back up the board. Because without the knee thing, he would have been a top-6 pick this year – but teams seem very wary of the medicals.


Biggest question: ACL recovery

Comparison: Jaylen Brown, Shane Battier

14 – Harry Giles, C, Duke, 19 – 6'11, 230, 7'3” wingspan

Arguably the best high-school prospect since LeBron. Giles was a game-changing interior defender, big, long, and explosive, and quick enough to flash out to the perimeter and back. Face-up game out to 15-18 feet, but really enjoyed being physical and playing through contact inside. Then he tore both of his ACLs and had a third knee surgery earlier this season, though he came back and played, sparingly and inconsistently, in 26 games.


Biggest question: Long-term knee structure

Comparison: Greg Oden, Chris Bosh

15 – John Collins, PF, Wake Forest, 19 – 6'10, 225, 6'11” wingspan

Explosive, physical scorer, rebounder, and defender around the basket, but struggles to do much of anything when asked to leave the post. Real old-school power forward type, but may be best-served as an undersized C (though his relatively short standing reach will hurt him more there)


Biggest question: Range

Comparison: Carl Landry, Kurt Thomas

16 – Ike Anigbogu, C, UCLA, 18 – 6'10, 250, 7'6” wingspan

Biggest question: Offense

Comparison: Bismack Biyombo, DeAndre Jordan

17 – Luke Kennard, SG, Duke, 21 – 6'6, 195, 6'5” wingspan

Great shooter, but will have to defend or be able to unlock some of that shooting for himself if he wants to be anything more than mediocre.


Biggest question: Playmaking

Comparison: Malcolm Brogdon, Nik Stauskas

18 – Jarrett Allen, C, Texas, 19 – 6'10, 234, 7'5” wingspan

Biggest question: Strength

Comparison: Ian Mahinmi, Marcus Camby

19 – Bam Adebayo, C, Kentucky, 19 – 6'10, 243, 7'3” wingspan

Biggest question: Offensive moves

Comparison: Patric Young, Kenyon Martin

20 – Justin Patton, C, Creighton, 20 – 6'11, 229, 7'3” wingspan

These three guys are nearly impossible to separate, and it’s really going to come down to team need. Allen has a mustache, a huge afro, and a headband, so he is the most awesome. Adebayo is the most physically ready, but needs to assert himself more. Patton shows deft offensive moves, and midrange touch that could develop into eventual three-point range, but too often gets beat on the other end.


Biggest question: Rebounding

Comparison: Byron Mullens, Jahlil Okafor

21 – Terrence Ferguson, SG, Australia, 19 – 6'7, 184, 6'9” wingspan

Biggest question: Defensive focus and offensive aggression

Comparison: Martell Webster, Jason Richardson

22 – Tyler Lydon, SF, Syracuse, 21 – 6'10, 215, 7'0” wingspan

Biggest question: Does he guard 3s or 4s?

Comparison: Jake Layman, Trevor Ariza

23 – Derrick White, PG/SG, Colorado, 22 – 6'5, 190, 6'8” wingspan

The version of Josh Hart who can play point guard

Biggest question: Lacks elite athleticism

Comparison: Randy Foye, Jarrett Jack

24 – TJ Leaf, PF, UCLA, 20 – 6'10, 222, 6'11” wingspan

Biggest question: Physical tools – below-average strength, length, and quickness for his position


Comparison: Trey Lyles, Kelly Olynyk

25 – Caleb Swanigan, C, Purdue, 20 – 6'9, 246, 7'3” wingspan

Biggest question: Keeping his weight down

Comparison: Ben Bentil, Zach Randolph

26 – Josh Hart, SG, Villanova, 22 – 6'5, 209, 6'8” wingspan

The version of Josh Hart who cannot play point guard

Biggest question: Athleticism

Comparison: Raja Bell, Wesley Matthews

27 – Jawun Evans, PG, Oklahoma State, 20 – 6'0, 185, 6'6” wingspan

Big-time little man who ran a ton of pick & roll with success as both a scorer and distributor, and brings back Chris Paul as one of his top size/stat comps.


Biggest question: Size

Comparison: Tyler Ulis, JJ Barea

28 – Jordan Bell, C, Oregon, 22 – 6'9, 224, 7'0” wingspan

Starting with the PAC-12 tournament, here’s how Bell wrapped up the final eight games of his college career: 11.4 points, 12.1 rebounds, 2.9 blocks, on 66 percent shooting. Then he blew up the combine with his athletic testing and all-around domination in the 5-on-5 drills.


Biggest question: Undersized at center, not a fluid or instinctive offensive player

Comparison: Gorgui Dieng, Larry Sanders

29 – Ivan Rabb, PF, Cal, 20 – 6'10, 220, 7'2” wingspan

It feels like he’s been around forever, just because he was a top high school prospect who stayed for a second year – and that hurts him. He’s big and mobile, but his offensive game stayed down after an inconsistent first year, and rebounding seems to be the only skill in which he’s truly above average.


Biggest question: Jumper

Comparison: Terrence Jones, PJ Brown

30 – Edmond Sumner, PG, Xavier, 21 – 6'6, 176, 6'9” wingspan

Injuries have held him back and shaved off needed development time – he’s lost a year and a half since entering college, and faces rehab from an ACL that cut his redshirt sophomore season short. Not a great shooter or decision-maker, but he’s huge, explosive vertically and laterally, and has a tight handle with a great first step. He won’t go nearly this high (and might not get drafted at all), but big guards require a little patience and he’s got as good a chance as anyone from this point on in the draft at being an NBA starter in six years. Also, I’m a sucker for huge point guards. Sue me.


Biggest question: Playing under control

Comparison: Tony Wroten, Zach LaVine

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