NBA Draft Preview: Top 15 Prospects

The ball always keeps on rolling in the NBA. Last week the Golden State Warriors reclaimed the NBA crown. This week, the next class of potential stars will take center stage at Barclays Center for the 2017 NBA draft. This year’s draft class is rather impressive. We’ve got great scorers, and even a “Big Baller.” With so much talent to pick from, it’ll be interesting to see where some teams go with their first round pick. The Celtics and 76ers have already shaken things up with their trade, and who knows what’ll happen on, and before draft day. For now, let’s take a second to get acquainted with the top 15 prospects in this year’s draft.

15. Justin Jackson: SG/SF, North Carolina

At 6’8, 210 lbs, Justin Jackson was a top 10 prospect coming out of high school. During his time at Chapel Hill, the Junior has managed to improve his game every season. During the 2016-17 season, Jackson averaged 18.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.8 assists, on 44% shooting from the field. He also scored 16 big points in the National Championship game for the Tar Heels. His improvement as a 3 point shooter, combined with his size has made him rise up some teams draft boards. Potential suitors for Jackson include the Trail Blazers and Hornets. I personally wouldn’t mind seeing him join Portland. Maybe he can develop into another young talented player to go along Damien Lillard and CJ McCullom.

14. Zach Collins: PF, Gonzaga

Collins is an interesting case, he only played 17 minutes a game as a Freshman, but he made the most of his minutes. He averaged 10 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks a game last season. He also shot an impressive percentage from both the field and, behind the arch (65% and 47%). At 7 ft tall, 230 lbs, Collins could be a steal for some lucky team. His ability to score from the post, as well as step out and hit jumpers, makes him the prototypical “modern NBA big man.” The 14th pick belongs to the Miami Heat, but they already have a star Big man, and honestly they have bigger holes to fill. The Sacramento Kings own the 10th overall pick (from NO), and you can’t help but think they’d like another shot at landing a talented and versatile big man to replace DeMarcus Cousins.

13. OG Anunoby: SF/PF, Indiana

Anunoby was supposed to be a top 10 pick in this year’s draft. Unfortunately, a knee injury in January not only cost him the rest of his Sophomore season, but it’s going to cause him to likely drop a few spots in the draft too. Regardless, someone is going to get a steal in Anunoby. At 6’8, 235 lbs, he has the ability to guard multiple positions. He was averaging 11.1 points and 5.4 rebounds a game before his season ended prematurely. The Denver Nuggets own the 13th pick, and if Anunoby falls to them, I’d say pull the trigger. This kid could be a future All-Star if he lands on the right team.

12. Luke Kennard: G, Duke

Kennard had an incredible Sophomore season for the Blue Devils and became a breakout prospect. The 6’6, 202 lbs guard averaged 19.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 2.5 assists a game in 2016-17. Kennard’s great shooting ability is what makes him stand out. Last season, he shot 48% from the field, including 43% from 3 point range. Add that to that fact that he blew scouts away at his pro day with his ability to sink long jumpers from virtually anywhere, and you’ve got one of the hottest names going into the draft. The Pistons own the 12th pick, but there are no guarantees that Kennard will even last that long. There aren’t too many teams in the league that can afford to just pass up a great shooter, other than the Warriors.

11. Donovan Mitchell: G, Louisville

Mitchell is another name that has been rising up draft boards. At 6’3, 210 lbs, he possesses a freakishly long 6’10 wingspan, and many scouts like the way his game will transfer to the NBA. Mitchell averaged 15.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 2.1 steals a game last year during his Sophomore season. He needs to improve his shooting ability a bit if he’s ever going to become an impact player in the NBA, but he would be a great fit for a team like the Hornets or the Mavericks.

10. Frank Ntilikina: G, France

The first international entry on the list! At 6’5, 180 lbs, Ntilikina is a little taller than the average point guard, but he’s going to have to add some muscle mass if he’s planning on enduring the grind of a full NBA season. The youngster will still be only 18 when he hears his name called Thursday night, but he’s put in the work to get here. Talk about needing to improve as a shooter? Well in 2015-16, Ntilikina averaged a putrid 27.3% from 3 point range. He improved that to 41.7% in 2016-17. He’s still a project, but he’s got what some believe to be “unlimited potential.” The New York Knicks are rumored to be interested in Ntilikina at #8, but if they chose to pass. I wouldn’t expect him make it pass both Dallas and Sacramento at #9 and #10.

9. Malik Monk: G, Kentucky

The talented 6’3, 200 lbs freshman, could potentially be the best pure scorer in the draft. Last season at Kentucky, Monk average 19.8 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 2.3 assists a game. He shot 51.3% from the field and 39.7% from beyond the arch. He’s a great jump shooter, shooting 41.6 % on jump shots. Astonishingly enough, that number goes up to 43.2% when being guarded. The kid can flat out score. He’s a bit undersized for his position, but he possesses incredible athleticism, and he has the potential to be a good defender. The Sacramento Kings own both the #5 and #10 pick so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go to them. If they elect to pass on the first go around though, there’s no guarantee that he’ll be there at #10. The Knicks could use a pure scorer, especially if Phil Jackson is successful in getting rid of Carmelo Anthony.

8. Dennis Smith Jr.: G, NC State

You want to talk about a lightning quick first step? That’s Dennis Smith Jr. The 6’3, 195 lbs Freshman showed many defenders in the ACC just how fast his first step is. During the 2016-17 season, Smith Jr. averaged 18.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 6.2 assists a game. He shot 45.2 % from the field, but only shot 35.9 from 3 this season, and was just 13 for 56 from mid-range as well. His shooting will have to improve, but there’s a lot of upside to Smith Jr. He’s has explosive athleticism, he’s a good passer, and he’s a talented scorer. He could go as early as #3 to the Boston Celtics.

7. Lauri Markkanen: PF/C, Arizona

Unlike the last foreign-born player on our list, Markkanen played college ball in the U.S. so NBA scouts are a bit more familiar with his game. In his one season. At Arizona, Markkanen averaged 15.6 points and 7.2 rebounds a game. He shot 49.2% from the field and 42.3% from 3 point land. At 7 foot tall, 230 lbs, that’s called versatility boys and girls, and that’s the kind of thing that gets you drafted early. The Timberwolves own the 7th pick, but they already have the talented big man in Karl Anthony Towns, and honestly, I’d be shocked if Markkanen makes it past Orlando at #6.

6. Jonathan Isaac: PF, Florida State

Isaac is truly one of the hidden gems in this draft. At 6’10 210 lbs, you’re not going to find a better combination of versatility, mobility, and just straight up skill level in a player. During his one season at Florida State, the Freshman averaged 12 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 1.2 assists a game. He shot 50.8% from the field and even showed he has a bit of range, shooting 34.8 from 3. Many scouts believe he could even play some small forward. If that’s so, then I could definitely see the Phoenix Suns at #4, the Sacramento Kings at #5, and the Orlando Magic at #6 to be extremely interested.

5. De’Aaron Fox: G, Kentucky

Here’s where the draft gets both interesting and deep. The top 5 prospects are all incredibly talented and you could make a strong case for either player being selected at either spot. In any other draft, Fox could have been just the first guard selected, but he could’ve even been the #1 pick. He’s that good. During his one season as a Wildcat, the 6’3 187 lbs Fox averaged 16.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 4.6 assists a game. His field goal percentage was 47.9 from the field, bit only 24.6 from 3 point range. That’s going to have to come up significantly. Overall though, Fox is extremely talented and full of potential. A back-court consisting of Fox and Devin Booker could be a scary thing for opposing teams if the Suns chose to add the talented guard to the mix.

4. Josh Jackson: G, Kansas

When you start getting compared to Kawhi Leonard, people start paying attention. At 6’7, 207 lbs, Jackson has the potential to be a superstar in the NBA. During his Freshman year at Kansas, Jackson averaged 16.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 3.0 assists a game. He shot 51.3% from the field and 37.8 from long range. He’s going to be an elite perimeter defender at the next level, and a nightmare to defend thanks to the way Bill Self played him at 4 positions in Kansas. He’s a great passer, defender, he can make plays in transition, and he’s got a great competitive nature. Sounds like a Lakers to me, but if they chose to pass, the Celtics might not be able to afford not to draft him.

3. Jayson Tatum: SF, Duke

It’s easy to get caught up in all the hype surrounding this year’s draft. After all, it’s full of talented prospects, perhaps one of the most talented though, is the Duke Freshman. Tatum came out of high school with an impressive offensive skill set and he only got better under Coach K. Tatum averaged 16.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 2.1 assists a game in 2016-17. Tatum continues to improve, he’s has great size for his position, and he’s been getting better as a shooter. If Phoenix doesn’t go with Fox, Tatum could be headed to the Suns.

2. Lonzo Ball: G, UCLA

The “Big Baller” himself, Lonzo Ball. It’s been a long crazy year for Lonzo, and it’s all going to culminate one way or another on Thursday night’s draft. Lavar Ball has been saying Lonzo was going to be a Laker since before they even officially had the pick, and for a while, it looked like a lock. Ball is the best passer in the draft, and his game has drawn comparisons to Magic Johnson, although that might be a little far. During his Freshman season at UCLA, Ball averaged 14.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 7.6 assists a game. He’s a good shooter, shooting at a 55.1% clip from the field, and 41.2 from beyond the 3 point line. Lonzo reportedly didn’t blow the Lakers away during his workout, and rumors say they were very impressed by Josh Jackson. That could all just be talk and rumors, but if the Lakers don’t take Lonzo with the #2 pick, it could be an embarrassing night for the Big Baller Brand and their biggest asset.

 1. Markelle Fultz: G, Washington

It really says something when you’re the #1 pick in such a deep NBA draft. It means a team is banking their future on you. Typically, #1 overall picks don’t go to good teams. Had the Celtics kept their pick instead of trading it to the 76ers, this year would’ve been an exception, but still, Philly isn’t full of scrubs anymore. The city of brotherly love trusted the process as much as they could, and it got them Joel Embid and Ben Simmons. Thursday night, the Sixers hope to add the last piece to their puzzle by selecting Markelle Fultz. As a Freshman, Fultz averaged 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 5.9 assists a game. He managed to shoot 47.6% from the field and 41.3% from 3 point land, despite being the best player on a bad Washington team, and drawing greater defensive attention. Fultz is being touted as one of the best prospects in recent history. He has great size and is the perfect combo of a scorer and a distributor. If he’s close to being as good as advertised. It might not be long before the 76ers become contenders again.

The NBA Draft is Thursday at 7 PM EST live on ESPN.