The 2017 draft is shaping up to be a good one with a handful of potential franchise talents at the top. While it’s early to make any definitive statements, it appears that the depth is down from past years and the end of the first round will actually be weaker than the average draft. College basketball is set to receive an injection of excitement with a freshman class that has a great deal of talent. On the flip side, the returning college talent appears to be down considerably and while players like Buddy Hield seemingly come out of no where each year, expect the lottery to be dominated by freshmen. Here is our first shot at the first round with capsules on each prospect.
|1.||Dennis Smith 6-2 190 PG NC State Fr.||Smith going first might be going out on a limb considering he’s coming off a major ACL injury that caused him to miss his senior season of high school. But you will remember we went out on a limb going into the season two years ago with a guy named Karl Anthony-Towns at 1, when everyone else projected Jahlil Okafor first. Smith is a rare lead guard with a combination of both athleticism, point guard skills and leadership. He points to Chris Paul and Derrick Rose as players that he looks up to in the NBA and he’s sort of a combination of the two. Smith is a charismatic young man who has a strong belief in himself and great leadership. He’ll obviously need to prove that his knee is completely recovered, but we expect a huge freshman season from him and consider him as good a choice as anyone to project first going into the 2016-17 season. While he lost his senior year and all of the showcase games, he gained a year of perspective being around the Wolfpack team as he rehabbed his knee. His ability to slow the game down and make decisions on drives is special. If he gains consistency in his shot, watch out!
NBA Comparison: Chris Paul/Derrick Rose
||Josh Jackson 6-8 205 SG/SF Kansas Fr.||The Michigan native made a great decision to move out West to attend Prolific Prep in Napa for his last two seasons of high school and his development both on and off the floor showed tremendous progress. He gained a great deal of maturity and focus and has become a legitimate top pick candidate. He is a year older than his classmates which is both a positive and a negative. While he may not have quite the development left in his game, he’s already very good: expect him to come into college and also the NBA physically and mentally prepared. He isn’t the raw physical specimen of Wiggins, but he’s shown more of a competitive fire, skill level and maturity at the same age.
NBA Comparison: Andrew Wiggins
||Harry Giles 6-10 225 PF/C Duke Fr.||Giles is a gregarious, fun loving kid who has a rare combination of strength, athleticism and shooting ability. After suffering major injuries to both knees in the past three seasons, there is understandable concern about his ability to both stay healthy and gain back 100% of his explosiveness. If he bounces back with the same type of speed and athleticism he showed following his first knee injury he could easily be in the mix to be the top pick. Giles headlines a banner Duke recruiting class that includes other elite recruits Jayson Tatum, and Frank Jackson and Marques Boldin.
NBA Comparison: Derrick Favors
||Markelle Fultz 6-5 185 PG/SG Washington Fr.||Fultz has been on a steady rise over the past year going from a top 20 prospect to the very top of his class. He’s an extremely talented offensive player with the ability to score in a number of ways. While not a freak athlete, his body control, hand eye coordination, quickness and ball skills are all top notch. He’s an incredibly creative player who loves to make the fan pleasing play, and more often than not makes these plays look easy. He should be an instant star at Washington and figures to be among the top handful of picks in next year’s draft. With his shooting ability and the shift to a lead guard dominated league, a big season could put him in the conversation to go first.
NBA Comparison: Dwyane Wade/CJ McCollum
||Frank Ntilikina 6-5 190 PG France 1998||Ntilikina has been on the radar since appearing in the Jordan Classic International game three years ago. While not a huge leaper, he’s got a great frame for a point guard with a 7-foot wingspan and very good quickness. His progress as a point guard has been surprising. He’s developed into a steady decision maker who shows the ability to make those around him better. With the success of Dennis Schroeder, whom the Hawks recently turned the keys of their offense over to in moving Jeff Teague, the confidence in International point guards has never been higher.
NBA Comparison: Dante Exum
||Jayson Tatum 6-8 205 SF Duke Fr.||Tatum is a real wildcard with his long and rangy frame and excellent footwork. Some consider him a guy that could challenge to be the top pick. He’s certainly developed a great reputation and earned many accolades throughout his high school career. He should be considered a can’t miss to be a solid NBA player and could be a standout. Our reservations with placing him higher revolve around his lack of foot speed which limits his effectiveness defending on the perimeter as well as creating plays off the dribble. He’s a decent shooter, but needs to improve in this area as well. Look for a team to snatch him up somewhere in the mid-lottery and have a cornerstone for many years.
NBA Comparison: Danny Granger
||Jonathan Isaac 6-10 205 SF/PF Florida St. Fr.||Isaac is a late bloomer with a long, thin frame and a lot of natural ability. A smart kid, Isaac has developed into an offensive threat with his ability to knock down outside shots as well as being a factor around the rim. With his smooth athletic profile, he appears to be just scratching the surface of his talent as he still has a lot of filling out to do in his upper body. While further away than some of the other prospects in his class, his upside is very intriguing. It will be interesting to see how quickly things fall into place and he becomes one of the Seminole’s top scoring options.
NBA Comparison: Rashard Lewis
||De'Aaron Fox 6-3 170 PG Kentucky Fr.||Fox is aptly named as he is a clever player with extreme quickness. His ability to defend gives him a lot of intrigue and he’s sure to benefit playing in Kentucky’s system. Fox figures to be next in line of a very impressive lineage of floor generals to play and develop under Coach Cal. Fox may struggle out of the gate, but his speed and athleticism insure that he will be a handful for opposing point guards. When he starts to get a handle on how to run the show at the college level, and learns to cut down on mistakes and play under control, the sky is the limit. His shooting stroke, while still a weakness, is much more sound, giving him the slight nod over fellow freshman Lonzo Ball.
NBA Comparison: Dennis Shroeder
||Lonzo Ball 6-6 190 PG UCLA Fr.||
Ball is one of the best passers to come through the high school ranks in the past 20 years. Drawing comparisons to Jason Kidd, Ball has innate point guard skills that just cannot be learned. He had a tremendous senior season leading his Southern California high school team to an undefeated record. While his shot is a major work in progress and may require completely overhauling the mechanics on it, he’s got tremendous size, defensive ability and point guard skills that should allow him to be a dominant college performer right away. He should also challenge to be a lottery pick in his freshman season.
NBA Comparison: Ricky Rubio
||Ivan Rabb 6-10 220 PF California So.||Rabb made the surprising decision to return to Cal after a productive freshman year in which he was widely projected to be a lottery pick. He is a cerebral kid who despite not having elite level speed and agility, possesses a great feel for the game and developing post skills. He has really embraced the college experience and the team that ends up drafting him will be getting a mature, strong character guy who competes hard and seems to understand how to put the team ahead of personal accolades.
NBA Comparison: Tom Gugliotta
||Wenyen Gabriel 6-9 195 SF/PF Kentucky Fr.||
Gabriel is a talented combo forward showing some face up ability and nice run/jump athleticism. Whether he can truly play on the wing will be an important question regarding his draft stock. He is a long, fluid athlete who plays with a high motor. Playing at Kentucky gives him the benefit of competing against high level athletes in practice on a daily basis. He’s a cerebral kid who shows a strong desire and seems to be just scratching the surface of his abilities.
NBA Comparison: Dermarr Johnson
||Isaiah Hartenstein 6-11 230 PF Germany 1998||
Hartenstein shows a lot of potential but has run into the injury bug over the past year essentially missing a year of development. He’ll look to get back on track this season. He’s a very good athlete by European standards and plays with good energy and desire. His offensive game shows a lot of intrigue as he can get the basket as well as knock down midrange shots. His ability to get out in transition and make plays at his size also gives him a lot of intrigue.
NBA Comparison: Donatas Motiejunas
||Bam Adebayo 6-10 245 PF/C Kentucky Fr.||For Bam apologists, he’s a smaller Dwight Howard. He’s a physically imposing bigman who can affect games on both ends with his rebounding and all around athleticism. He should be able to come in and be a force on the boards right away. Where he figures to struggle is with his offensive game as he doesn’t possess great touch or a legitimate set of post skills to this point.
NBA Comparison: Markieff Morris
||Malik Monk 6-3 185 SG Kentucky Fr.||
Monk is an undersized 2-guard with top shelf athleticism. Playing at Kentucky he’ll have the perfect opportunity to showcase his open court speed and explosiveness. He has been described by some as a player that could develop into a point guard, but that may be optimistic. His forte is scoring and using his athleticism in the open floor in transition. If he can develop into a combo that can play some point within the rotation, he’ll create some added value. Whether he slips into the same vortex as two highly rated small 2s from last year’s recruiting class (Malik Newman and Antonio Blakeney) remains to be seen.
NBA Comparison: Louis Williams
||Jarrett Allen 6-10 235 C/PF Texas Fr.||Allen is a long term play. He’s a smart kid with a very long frame who can get out and run the floor well. His overall game is still raw but shows a lot of potential. He’s unlikely to have a huge freshman season, but the talent is there for him to be a starting NBA center down the line. UK’s Bam Adebayo came into college as the higher rated prospect, but Allen seems to have considerably more upside left to develop and could leapfrog him before the end of the season.
NBA Comparison: Cole Aldrich
||Tyler Lydon 6-9 220 SF/PF Syracuse So.||Lydon is well liked by scouts for his ability to score and his toughness. He has an excellent shooting stroke and improving range. He’s a bit of a tweener and will need to decide which forward position he wants to pursue. Today’s NBA seems to be more accomodating to the tweener types which helps a guy like Lydon. He obviously needs to get stronger, but his ability to face up as well as make some plays in the post gives his game diversity.
NBA Comparison: Omri Casspi
||Edmond Sumner 6-5 185 PG/SG Xavier So.||Sumner is a physical specimen showing great speed and athleticism at the lead guard position. If you’re extremely bullish on him, he’s a poor man’s John Wall. He shows combo skills and excels in attacking the basket off the dribble with his elite speed. His skill level and confidence are beginning to catch up to his talent. Whether or not he will make a big leap in production remains to be seen, but the talent is there for him to break out into one of the top players in the Big East, and point guards in the country this year.
NBA Comparison: Delon Wright
||Ray Smith 6-8 220 SF Arizona Fr.||
Smith was drawing rave reviews from scouts that had seen him in practices leading up to his early-season ending knee injury. If he can bounce back he could be one of the draft’s risers come June. He’ll need to stay injury free and obviously his knee will have to check out in team physicals. Smith is a multifaceted forward who shows a lot of offensive skills. The Las Vegas native could break out as Arizona’s go-to frontcourt scorer and his face up skills are sure to intrigue scouts.
NBA Comparison: Tobias Harris
||Grayson Allen 6-5 205 SG Duke Jr.||
Allen made a wise decision to return for his junior year and figures to be a first rounder with another solid season considering the depth of this year’s draft isn’t as strong as last year’s. Allen is extremely aggressive and proved as a freshman in the NCAA title game two years ago that he has some big huevos. He is very dedicated to the weight room and shows aggressiveness in creating contact and getting to the line. While his size, athleticism and quickness are all just average for an NBA 2-guard, his energy and intangibles should allow him to find a role at the next level and overcome scout’s concerns about his limitations.
NBA Comparison: Brandon Rush
||DJ Hogg 6-8 220 SF Texas A&M So.||
Hogg has reshaped his body and shows a lot of potential as a scorer. His ability to create good looks for himself will be pivotal in how his season is viewed. His freshman statistics weren’t great, but he showed that his athleticism and body have improved considerably from his high school days while playing at adidas Nations this summer. He still plays somewhat of a finesse game, so getting stronger and tougher will be important. He’s still flying under the radar for many but we feel he could be one of the breakout college players this year and project him as a first rounder.
NBA Comparison: Sam Dekker
||Terry Larrier 6-8 195 SF UConn So.||
Like DJ Hogg, Terry Larrier isn’t completely on the radar yet, but he should be. He’s a VCU transfer with excellent size and evolving skills. He’ll need to show that his ability to put the ball on the deck and playmaing skills have improved, but he does have a nice shooting stroke and very solid athletic attributes.
NBA Comparison: Dorrell Wright
||Jaron Blossomgame 6-8 220 SF Clemson Sr.||
Blossomgame was one of the surprises to pull his name out of the draft last year as rumors persisted that the Clippers had a promise in place at 25 for him. He’s improved as a spot up shooter and has one of the most athletic profiles of any prospect returning to school. He crashes the glass on both ends with his strong frame and aggressiveness and is a borderline freak athlete. Where he doesn’t have a high skill set and needs to improve is in his ability to create with the ball in his hands.
NBA Comparison: Joey Graham
||Terrance Ferguson 6-7 185 SG Australia 1998||
Ferguson committed to Arizona but issues related to his transcript curtailed his NCAA eligibility. He has already begun his season playing in the Australian men’s league and he will likely find things more difficult than he anticipated. He showed what a deadly shooter he can be in April’s Nike Hoop Summit connecting on seven 3 pointers in just a few minutes of game time. While extremely limited in creating offense for himself and others, his prototypical 3-and-D skills give him intrigue. It will be interesting to see how many scouts make the trip down under to see him.
NBA Comparison: James White
||Miles Bridges 6-7 230 PF/SF Michigan St. Fr.||
Bridges is a powerful forward who despite lacking great length and height has been rated amongst the top prospects in his class. He’s a bigtime leaper who plays with confidence and aggressiveness. Due to deficiencies in his shooting form, he may struggle some to score, outside of garbage baskets around the rim and drawing fouls. Whether he can maintain a solid FT% will also be a good barometer for his draft stock.
NBA Comparison: Trevor Booker
||Jonathan Jeanne 7-1 210 PF/C France 1997||
In his second year of potentially being eligible for the draft, Jeanne will look to add consistency and production playing for his French team Le Mans. He’s a specimen with great length and fluidity who remains very raw in terms of skills. He shows shot blocking ability and can become a force on the boards if he gets stronger and tougher. His ability to move and run the floor makes him intriguing and he’ll likely get first round looks if he enters, based on his upside.
NBA Comparison: Clint Capela
||Allonzo Trier 6-4 205 SG Arizona So.||
Trier is a prolific scorer with good speed and athleticism. He considered entering the draft after one year at Arizona but made a wise choice in returning to school. A five star recruit, look for him to emerge as the Wildcat’s go-to scorer this season. He lacks ideal size for the next level, but is explosive and has pretty good ball skills. He likely will carve out a role as an instant offense type off the bench. A big season should get him looks in the first round on draft night.
NBA Comparison: Jordan Crawford
||Nik Slavica 6-8 200 SG/SF Croatia 1997||
Slavica is one of the more intriguing European talents that could potentially make themselves available for this year’s draft. He’s an explosive wing who has proven to be a clutch performer on a big stage having lead Croatia to the U19 World Championships Gold Medal game. Croatia lost to Team USA in overtime, but Slavica had a monster 23 pts, 5 rebs, 6 asts, 3 stls and 1 blk stat line, and in the process showed his ability to hang with American athletes.
NBA Comparison: Quincy Pondexter
||Justin Jackson 6-8 205 SF North Carolina Jr.||
Jackson needs to play with more toughness and assertiveness this year. He’s a talented forward with a solid set of skills but he struggles to play to his ability on a regular basis. After entering college as a five star recruit, he has yet to fully realize his talent. JJ has a bit of an unorthodox offensive game and will need to continue to work on his outside shooting. It’s his time to shine, showcase his abilities and become the leader of the Tar Heels.
NBA Comparison: Justin Holiday
||Tyler Roberson 6-8 225 PF Syracuse Sr.||
Roberson fits the mold of today’s undersized "energy" power forward. He understands his role and plays to his strengths well. While some NBA teams prefer to stay away from Syracuse players due to the defensive deficiencies that they often enter the league with, Roberson has the length, foot speed and athleticism to evolve into an excellent defender in time. He still has a ways to go offensively, but his physical attributes and athleticism give him intrigue.
NBA Comparison: Montrezl Harrell
||Moses Kingsley 6-10 230 PF/C Arkansas Sr.||
While not exactly an upside pick, Kingsley has a blue collar work ethic and it has equated to a steady development curve. While his fundamentals aren’t perfect, he beats opponents with his desire. Sort of a poor man’s Festus Ezeli, Kingsley doesn’t have the height or weight, but his length is very good. He crashes the glass hard and has steadily developed more confidence in his shooting. Look for him to surprise this year and possibly get late first round consideration.
NBA Comparison: Joel Anthony