With the draft only a few days away, here are our annual top 5 superlative lists, with a breakdown of some of those who hold the top spots.
Most Athletic: Dennis Smith
Known for his strong frame as a guard, his quickness and change of speed with the ball, not to mention some inexplicable hops from a stand still or with a running start, Smith has the potential to be a special athlete even at a position loaded with them. Even coming off of an ACL tear that caused him to miss all of his final high school season, he showed agility, body control in the air and the strength to make tough finishes. It is not just that he has an over 40” max vertical, but also his lift without taking a step, not to mention a body that appeared to be more NBA ready than even the top PG counterparts in his class. Intangible questions remain, with some noting his lack of effort, especially as a defender. All in all, he has a chance to be a very valuable point guard and projects as a clear standout athlete at the NBA level.
Strongest Player: Semi Ojeleye
It is pretty impressive that a player as strong as Ojeleye leaps and moves as well he does. He measured in at slightly over 6’6 in shoes, 241 lbs and only 5.5% body fat. Also, he bench pressed 185 lbs a 2017 NBA Draft combine high 19 times, 3 more than the second place finisher. Some may point to his being 22 as a factor for why he may have out lifted his younger counterparts, but for now, this level of readiness is part of his appeal. With a strong enough body to potentially add some versatility to a teams forward line-up, Ojeleye went from an afterthought at Duke to a potential 1st round pick after a highly efficient season at SMU.
Fastest Player: De'Aaron Fox
Fox can stop on a dime and accelerate to blinding speed better than anyone in the draft. He uses this to play strong on-ball defense and cover a great deal of ground, and also to charge ahead for finishes that belie his slight frame. In fact, many see him as someone whose speed can in time overcome his possible shooting woes, with enough quickness to even stagger defenders that play off of him. There certainly were times where Fox dominated by just being flat out faster than anyone on the floor. At a time where speed really kills, whatever team drafts Fox is at the very least getting someone who is true to that mantra.
Most Explosive Backcourt Player: Malik Monk
He was more known for his shooting than his explosive leaping ability in his time at Kentucky, though the latter is the reason that he should be classified as a scorer as opposed to just a spot-up threat. Monk could heat up like few others in the NCAA as a freshman and was one of the top scorers on a per minute basis. He would leak out quite a bit by design and this was due to his ability to elevate and make tough finishes, or even catch thunderous lobs at times. He gets off the floor with amazing ease, skying way above the rim, and while there are questions about his size as a two-guard, his ability to defy gravity, comined with such a great offensive skill set, makes him an intriguing mid-lotto talent.
Most Explosive Frontcourt Player: Bam Adebayo
Among a large number of contenders for this spot, Adebayo has raw strength to go along with his ability to get amazing lift which gives him the nod. One measure of how much this helped him around the basket was that he finished with a Kentucky single season record of 101 dunks (9 more than Anthony Davis, thanks to Kyle Boone of CBS Sports for the stat). Now, other aspects of his game still need to be ironed out, as those dunks made up for almost 60% of his made field goals. He also is not the quickest in terms of reaction or laterally. What we do know is that he can finish lobs, he does work on the glass and he is a strong body to contend with when he is flying through the air. If he can become a beast on the offensive boards, a la Tristan Thompson, he could have a similar impact for a team.
Least Athletic: Kennedy Meeks
There is certainly a lot to basketball besides pure athleticism, and Meeks proved that throughout his career at North Carolina. His size certainly helped, but he was also a fundamentally sound rebounder with soft hands and an ability to make strong outlet passes. However, for the next level, there are legitimate concerns about whether he can run with NBA level athletes. He gets very little lift off of the floor, he has a tough time moving side-to-side and he plods down the floor, even when he is sprinting. He was an absolute force during the NCAA Tournament and a huge reason North Carolina won the NCAA Championship this year, but it is hard to see him fitting in with the way the NBA is headed in terms of speed and tempo.
Jason Maxiell Award: Sebastian Saiz
This award is given to the player who has the greatest difference between height without shoes and wingspan, with Saiz sporting an insane 10.5” differential at 6’7 without shoes and 7’5.5 wingspan. The Spanish import improved a great deal during his time at Mississippi, to being named 1st Team All-SEC during his senior year, leading the conference at 11.4 rpg. While he does not get a great deal of lift and is not incredibly quick in terms of straight line speed; he has at least played himself into the conversation and his length gives him a chance to be a center, even by NBA standards.
Best Shooter: Lauri Markkanen
The skill that truly stands out for the 7-footer from Finland that could be immediately translatable is his dead-eye shooting from long range. He has an incredibly effective stroke from the outside and constantly drew big men out of the paint. 42.3% 3PT with a 83.5% FT are not numbers you commonly see from a big man, and he is able to use his size to score over smaller defenders as well. He was great off the catch and even did surprisingly well off of the bounce, and that could make him a dangerous offensive player. In terms of rebounding and defense there are obvious question marks, but his shooting is so lethal, it will be difficult for teams to pass on him outside the top 10.
Best Handle: Markelle Fultz
His hips are fantastic and he has a penchant for using either hand, which makes him a very tough cover. The creativity he brings to the game makes it hard to take your eyes off of him, and while he can play off of the ball, odds are teams will want it in his hands quite a bit. He simply has a number of ways to get from point A to point B in style, and is great at pushing the pace using his handle to get to the line or complete spectacular finishes. Not to mention, he is great at shooting off of the bounce, which is what opens up so many possibilities for him on offense.
Best Passer: Lonzo Ball
No matter what you expect from Lonzo’s shooting or isolation game, you know that he is at the very least going to make some outstanding reads and keep his teammates happy. With passing being highly valued, Ball is a true quarterback, with an ability to see over defenders with passes that almost always find their target. He led the NCAA in assists and should be tremendous in a team concept, which is why he is considered likely to be taken 2nd overall by the Lakers. You can say all you want about potential off-court concerns, he elevates his teammates and has a fantastic basketball IQ.
Best Defender: Jordan Bell
His size and length are not ideal. He will probably never be a high level offensive player. The thing is, he knows these things and plays brilliantly within a team construct. He explodes off the floor, has excellent timing as a shot blocker and was versatile enough to guard just about every position he needed to in college. For that, he was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and finished as Oregon’s all-time leader in blocked shots. He is a maximum effort player with incredibly quick reaction time, who improved greatly on and off the ball defensively during his time in Eugene. If you are looking for someone to do the dirty work, and even provide some underrated vision, look no further.
Best Rebounder: Caleb Swanigan
Rebounding is largely about fundamentals and effort, with Biggie Swanigan embodying both of those things in a big way. His great hands and a nose for the ball, not to mention his strong frame and massive wingspan, Swanigan averaged 12.5 rpg, for an even more absurd 22.5% total rebound percentage as a sophomore. Even with his more toned body he has a ways to go athletically, and there are concerns about him with quicker big men or having to guard down a position. But, those players will have to feel his wrath on offense and close to the basket, not to mention try to box him out.
Best Competitor: Josh Jackson
Effort is viewed as a skill, and the NBA is a league full of top players, but not all have boundless energy. This is where Jackson could become great, as he has fantastic quick twitch ability and really works hard on both ends. It seems like when it comes to loose balls, hard nosed defense or simply sprinting down the floor, Jackson only knows how to give his all at all times. His aggression can cause him to get into foul trouble, but it also is a very endearing quality as a prospect. He appears to just want it more, and he has the athleticism and talent to be a superstar if he can fulfil his raw, untapped potential.
Highest Risk: Frank Ntilikina
It is usually unfair to call international players, “mystery prospects” and Ntilikina certainly has been on the radar for quite a while. He also has played very little high level basketball and leaves a number of unanswered questions in terms of his ability to translate to the NBA as a lead guard. His age is what gives the 6’5 guard with a reported 7’1 wingspan so much intrigue, with a smooth shot and huge defensive potential on-ball, much less playing against grown men in France’s Pro A league. It is also what makes him so high risk, as teams must project how well his playmaking will translate to the NBA level with top point guards in this draft. The talent and physical attributes are tantalizing, though he presents a risky proposition due to his lack of readiness.
Most Potential: Markelle Fultz
He has great physical attributes, athleticism, agility and he showed the ability to do so many things well offensively which gives him a great deal of potential He can score in a variety of ways, reads well in the pick-and-roll, is able to make incredibly difficult finishes and while his defense was chastised at times, he still showed an ability to create turnovers and even make a few chase down blocks. He also seems to have great energy, changes speeds well and has a very quick first step. He is strong with the ball in his hands, and also as a spot-up shooter or running off of screens. He is what a new generation guard looks like and gives him a tremendous amount of upside as a go to scorer and lead guard.
1st Round Sleeper: Jawun Evans
Evans had a little more help last year than the year before, but was still asked to carry a lot of the burden for the Cowboys and did so in an exciting fashion. Barely cracking 6’0, Evans sports a 6’5.5 wingspan that does something to make up for it, but it is his understanding of the game that has some believing he will be a mid-first round pick. Excelling in the pick-and-roll while showing some solid shooting indicators, his lack of top shelf leaping ability and size seem to be made up for with heady play and quick reaction. With an ability to play passing lanes and cover the ball well, Evans puts himself near the front of the class of guys in the second half of the round one.
2nd Round Sleeper: Josh Hart
The leading scorer of the 2016 NCAA Tournament champion Villanova Wildcats thought about entering last years draft before deciding to return for his senior year. What happened this year was his being on the short list for National Player of the Year, consensus 1st Team All-American and showing a lot of improvement as a playmaker. He would rely quite a bit on his strength to overpower smaller wings, while some also point to his not being the most explosive player. He still was a high level role player on great college teams who developed into a star, and he certainly has ability in which you could see him eventually being a solid NBA role player.
Undrafted Sleepers: Chris Boucher
This may be an absolute homer pick (Oregon grad here), but I am rolling with it! He is maybe 185 lbs soaking wet (he measured at 182.2 at the NBA Draft Combine) and he has never really been able to carve out post position. He also is coming off of an ACL tear and most people are painfully aware that he is already 24-years old. With all of this being said, he affected the game in so many different ways, from his great timing as a shot blocker to his unique ability to stretch the floor. He runs very well for a player his size, not to mention effortlessly rising for finishes above the rim. He will need time to recover. More than likely, he will need to play a season or three in Europe before he ever reaches an NBA floor. Still, with his unique attributes, 9’2.5 standing reach and the NBA headed towards a game of speed and spacing, the dream is not over for Chris Boucher.
Jason Maxiell Award (Largest Difference Between Height Without Shoes and Wingspan)
High Risk/High Reward
1st Round Sleepers
Past Top 5 Lists