-Jim Root / @2ndChancePoints
1. Markelle Fultz
Quite simply, he’s the most complete offensive prospect in the draft. He has basically every skill you’d ask for in a lead guard: he can score one-on-one, he has great feel for the pick-and-roll game, he can shoot from both midrange and distance, he has a keen eye for making the right pass to beat rotations, and he has the leaping ability and creativity to finish at the rim, either with authority or a cleverly-angled lay-in. He’s like a deluxe Swiss Army knife on the offensive end – unfortunately, that usefulness didn’t really extend to the defensive end in college. It’s easy to write it off as an effort thing – Washington was always going to be atrocious on that end even if Fultz magically turned into Scottie Pippen, and his physical tools and basketball IQ seem to indicate that he’s capable of much more. For me, he’s the number 1 guy with a bullet in this draft, regardless of whoever is drafting in that slot.
2. Josh Jackson
Jackson’s statistical profile from his freshman year (rebounded, passed, created havoc defensively, shot 38% from deep) along with his 6’8 frame and elite athleticism make him the NBA’s ideal wing. It’s easy to envision him switching 1-4 (even 1-5 against stretch fives), while punishing smaller and slower defenders alike in a variety of way offensively. The issue is that the shooting was probably a mirage – the sample was very small (only 90 attempts), he threw up hideous bricks more often than you’d like, and he only shot 57% from the free throw line. His shot has a strange, cock-back hitch in it that prevents it from being totally fluid – almost like how an archer has to pull back on his bow to shoot an arrow. Still though, that’s the only thing holding him back as a prospect for me – I gave him shit throughout the season for his off-the-court stuff, but none of it is really that concerning long-term (just don’t kick cars, man!). I’ll bet on him developing a smoother J with NBA coaching.
3. Dennis Smith Jr.
Welcome to Fultz Lite. Both guys served as the offensive focal point for poorly-coached teams that treated defense like ESPN treats real reporters. Smith, however, lacks the defensive potential that Fultz’s length brings, and he’s slightly worse across the board offensively. What he does have, though, is high-level athleticism, impressive PnR and passing acumen, and a decent jump shot to keep defenders honest. I have some confidence in his ability to attack and score off the dribble (particularly pull-up jumpers), which is why I have him a touch higher than the next guy…
4. Lonzo Ball
Very few places will have Ball outside the top 2, so I guess I’ll start with why I don’t have him there – I’m just not sold he’s going to be a major scoring threat in the pick-and-roll, which is becoming ever more crucial in the NBA’s era of spacing around a spread PnR. Don’t get me wrong, he’s an excellent shooter with deep, deep range, and despite his funky form that looks like he’s drawing a sword from his left hip (that’s two shot comparisons to medieval weaponry!), the release is smooth and the ball has great spin. It’s that release, though, that will be an issue as a PnR scorer.
Midrange pull-up jumpers are nearly impossible for him while going right, so the opposing big man guarding the roll man can sag off and let Ball have the 15-to-18-footer (with Ball’s defender chasing to catch up), neutralizing the roll man in the process. You can succeed without that jumper, but that usually involves eating up the space given to you and finishing through the opposing big’s body; while Lonzo had a few decent drives (documented nicely by @T1m_NBA on Twitter), he never really finished over size. Major questions also exist around his defensive instincts and lateral quickness. Perhaps the biggest risks, though; his dad may conduct an actual organizational coup, and/or Lonzo might get injured while playing in the cardboard garbage shoes that Big Baller Brand is peddling.
Ok, Negative Nancy is done – I’m a major buyer in Ball’s preternatural passing instincts, he has the aforementioned shooting prowess, and it only takes watching a couple of his highlight reel dunks to see his high-level athleticism and size for the position. He’s likely to be a very good PG, he’ll almost surely to be a blast to watch, and I only dropped him to fourth. It’s not an insult, I swear!
5. DeAaron Fox
Fox is a devastating driver, using his quickness and ball-handling to get into the lane at will. More impressively, this was done playing in for a Kentucky team that basically never had more than 1 or 2 shooting threats on the court, meaning in spite of cramped spacing, he could still consistently break down the defense and knife into gaps, forcing rotations and creating general defensive disarray. He’s also the only one of the elite college PG prospects whose defensive film doesn’t make you want to find a barf bucket, so that’s something. He’s so good laterally at pestering opposing ball-handlers for 80-90 feet – not always to get steals, but to slowly wear them down and delay the opposing offense from initiating action. His jump shot, though, is…not good. He hit 24.6% of his threes, 32.4% from 17-20 feet, and 36.6% from inside 17 feet, and you don’t have to be an efficiency guru to see how putrid those numbers are. There’s some hope – the form has never looked broken (plus he hit 74% of his FTs) – so he’s not necessarily doomed to a life of Michael Carter-Williams-esque clunkers. The penetration, athleticism, and defensive prowess are all valuable enough to gamble on the jumper this high.
6. Jonathan Isaac
Isaac is the wet dream of any NBA GM focused on re-creating the Golden State Warriors defense. His size, quickness, athletic fluidity, and prowess on the glass and protecting the rim encourage visions of a 6’11 Draymond Green, switching 1-5 and owning his matchup regardless of who he ends up on. This defensive potential is complemented by a developing-but-smooth jumper, with range out to the three-point line.
Why, then, is this monstrosity of a man not a top 3 pick? Well, he basically contributed nothing offensively in a creation sense – no isolation, no post-ups, no pick-and-roll, nada. For all my graphing and algebra nerds out there, he was very much a dependent variable within FSU’s offensive scheme. It’s not impossible for him to develop those skills – again, it’s not like he was outright bad at them, he just never even got a chance to try. Isaac’s defensive floor is high enough to take him here, and his ceiling may tempt a team to move him even higher.
7. Malik Monk
A sublime athlete and a silky shooter, Monk just needs a few inches of height or wingspan to be a prototypical 2-guard. He can score with the ball in his hands or moving without it, showing a quick release in either situation, and his vertical explosion gives him potential as a finisher even against size. The aforementioned size limits his defensive upside (despite appearing quite lanky, his narrow shoulders hurt his wingspan), and he will need to be better positionally on that end to avoid being a liability.
The biggest mystery with Monk is whether he can be a secondary creator, both for himself and others. Playing with an elite PG like Fox gave him a lot of open shots, but it really limited his chances to show off his ability in the PnR. He knows it, too - in an interview during the NBA Draft Lottery, he specifically said that's what he thinks he can bring to an NBA team. If he's right, he's probably a steal at #7.
8. Jayson Tatum
Another guy I’m lower on than most. Tatum’s upside is a midrange isolation scorer, and I’m just not sure that’s a route to an efficient offensive fulcrum in today’s NBA. The ball stops often when Tatum gets it (I semi-lovingly dubbed him Jab-step Jayson this college season), so unless he’s playing with several perimeter shooting threats to prevent defenses from collapsing, he’s going to struggle to score against NBA length without much space. His block and steal rates were positives, but to me, he’s a lot closer to Jabari Parker than Justise Winslow as a defensive prospect. His lateral foot speed and vertical explosion are only average, relative to the NBA, and he got by a lot on his superior length. He has some potential on the defensive end, but he has a long way to go. That, along with me selling his chances of being an elite #1 offensive option, pull him down to #8 overall.
9. Lauri Markkanen
First of all - can we please start calling him The Markksman?! I love it too much and it fits his game to well; I'll die on this hill. Anyway, it's pretty simple with Mr. Markksman - for my money, he's the best shooter in the draft (apologies to Cool Hand Luke and Mr. Monk). His form is picture-perfect, and he showed the rare big man ability to shoot on the move in addition to spot up opportunities.
This gives him one of the most elite assets a player can provide a team in today's NBA - gravitational pull. He'll require extra attention everywhere he goes, which opens the floor up for his teammates. He also holds his own as a rebounder on both ends. The issues? He hasn't shown the ability to consistently find the open man or move the ball against his added defensive attention, and he offers basically no upside as a rim protector. He has enough feel for the game to avoid being a defensive liability, but that will take time - whoever drafts him will need to find creative ways to use him offensively while hiding him on the other end at first.
10. Frank Ntilikina
Obviously, Ntilikina did not play college basketball last year, so the 3MW is relying more on Youtube clips and what other scouting reports have said about him. Like Fox, he offers more of a defensive presence at the point guard spot, using his length and quickness to bother opposing ball-handlers. Ntilikina actually showed the ability to shoot from deep consistently, too, so he won't cramp the floor quite as much as Fox. Frank doesn't have the devastating dribble drive creation, though, and he may struggle to be a team's primary facilitator - he might best be paired with a wing who can create.
11. Zach Collins
Easily the best big man in the draft for this writer, Collins should be a defensive force with decent offensive upside as well. He's mobile enough to switch a little on the perimeter, but his true strength should be his rim protection. He didn't measure with absurd wingspan (only 7'1" on his 7'0" frame), but his standing reach of 9'3" (fifth at the combine) showed that scoring over him will be a chore.
He was also one of the country's best two-way rebounders, and that intensity will serve him well as he faces NBA-caliber athletes every night. Offensively, he has good touch and can finish with authority, but he'll need to develop his post moves and not be such a mega-black hole (he can't pass at all, to put it nicely) in order to emerge as a true scoring threat. Expanding the range on his promising jumper could be a weapon, as well.
12. OG Anunoby
Anunoby is basically Jonathan Isaac without a jump shot and coming off an injury. At his peak when he's healthy, he might actually be a better defensive prospect than Isaac (which is insane), but Anunoby's role offensively is a major question mark right now. He can't stretch the floor at all, he's turnover-prone when he tries to create, and he's not a post-up threat. He can score a bit as a cutter, and developing him into an under-sized roll-man pogo stick might be the best option. The torn ACL is certainly a concern, but his delicious potential as a 1-5 defensive wrecking ball should make him a lottery choice.
13. Donovan Mitchell
***BIAS ALERT*** I’ve been a gigantic Donovan Mitchell fan for a while now – check out our preseason awards podcast from October 2016 when I had him as a Third Team All-American – but this ranking has some substance to it. Mitchell is a supremely talented guard who already has the look of an elite defender a la Tony Allen. He can be a shutdown defender on anyone 1-3 with his 6’10 wingspan and top-shelf athleticism, and he possesses very disruptive hands with which to create turnovers. He also was the linchpin to a surprisingly effective offense, and his potential as a secondary ball-handler is intriguing. Stick him next to a forward like Giannis or LeBron and he could be a two-way monster as his shot continues to develop.
14. A European Guy I Haven't Watched Enough Of, Probably Rodions Kurucs or Isaiah Hartenstein
Uhhhh...honestly, I haven't watched enough of the following Euros to rank them: Kurucs, Hartenstein, Anzejs Pasecniks, Kostja Mushidi, and Jonathan Jeanne (there are some others, but they'd be a lot lower).
14. Jordan Bell
Yes, this is crazy high, and no, I don't think Bell will get drafted near #14 overall. Teams in this range are looking for a swing-for-the-fences talent (like the above European guys), but I love him because I know exactly what I'm getting and how he can fit into today's NBA. He'll be a smallball 5 who can guard nearly every position, provide some legitimate rim protection, and be a rim-running force offensively in a spread pick-and-roll attack. He'll never be a creative hub on offense, but as he showed at the combine, he's an elite athlete, and that along with his defensive instincts make him a high-floor player.
Part 2 - 15-50 - will be coming soon.