Our annual look at the top players in the draft by category. Here is the most athletic, strongest, fastest, most competitive, best defender, etc, followed by a top 5 list of each.
Most Athletic: Ben Simmons
He may not be as explosive as Marquese Chriss or have the speed of Kris Dunn, but talking to scouts, the feeling is that Simmons is the preeninent athlete in this year’s draft. Though he does not jump out of the gym, his ability to run the floor at his size, finish through contact, combined with his body control and hand-eye coordination make his all around athleticism top notch. He also possesses a quick first step to blow by opponents and absolutely can make plays above the rim. While he may not be what one expects as far as posting 40” vertical (unless you believe the LSU combine numbers, which we choose to disregard), he does possess athletic tools rarely seen in a prospect with legitimate PF size.
Strongest Player: Guerschon Yabusele
What truly helps this young man from France stand out is his natural, raw strength. He should at least be able to assert his physicality right away, as players just seem to bounce off Yabusele. With extremely quick feet given his over 260 pound frame, he will be a force when given a full head of steam going to the basket. Carving out real estate and bringing energy will be his calling card, and teams always need someone to do the dirty work.
Fastest Player: Kris Dunn
Nearly everyone has Dunn as the top “true” point guard in the draft, and what makes him so dangerous at his size is his ability to get by defenders. He has a great first-step and it is easy to see his ability to create translating to the next level. His decision making will require him to sometimes slow his roll, but his potential to reign in his wildness could make him a guy you want running your team.
Least Athletic: Mamadou N'Diaye
He is absurdly big, and was rumored to have a 8’3” wingspan, an insane 10.5” longer than his 7’4.5” height without shoes. With Rudy Gobert seen as the standard of wingspan in the NBA currently (since Walter Tavares does not have official measurements out there), Mamadou would bring a length that has probably not been seen since Manute Bol patrolled the paint. While his length will get him some looks, his reaction speed is painfully slow and he struggles greatly with lateral movement. Throw in a difficult time with conditioning, despite working quite hard to improve in this regard, it makes his chances of making a roster a long shot.
Jason Maxiell Award: Cheick Diallo
At 6’5” without shoes possessing a 7’3.25” wingspan, Maxiell is pretty much the standard bearer for insanely long wingspan compared to his height. While I did just mention Mamadou Ndiaye possibly shattering that, we wanted to get the highest documented differences between height and wingspan. Diallo certainly has arms for days, as he measures at 6’7.5” and has a 7’4.5” wingspan. He has speed to go along with these measurements that could make him a supreme defender, and also help speed up his learning curve. He has a ways to go, though we might be looking at a Faried like rotation big in time, which is probably worth a first round gamble.
Best Shooter: Buddy Hield
This could very well go to the pure shooting of Kyle Wiltjer, but we are banking on the volume of shots that Hield will see in the NBA along with his tremendous improvement. His work ethic is well known, and when Jamal Murray broke the Celtics workout record of 79-100 three-point makes, Buddy came in and made 85. He went from a non-shooter, to a volume shooter, to the most dangerous shooter in all of college basketball. He made 4 three-pointers per game at a 45.7% rate, along with 88% FT. He can score in other ways as well, though his shot is what could make him a strong SG in arguably the league’s thinnest position as far as depth.
Best Ball Handler: Tyler Ulis
This award once again goes to a player who does not only have the ball on a string, but is someone who keeps his mistakes down to a minimum and gets to spots on the floor that help him create opportunities for himself and his teammates. He had a 3.5:1 assist-to-turnover ratio, and was seen as one of the best leaders in all of college basketball.
Best Passer: Denzel Valentine
He won numerous NCAA Player of the Year awards, but before that, his ability to get others involved was what helped him stand out. Not only did he average a staggering 7.8 apg as a senior, he had a 2.9:1 assist-to-turnover ratio and made himself into a legitimate first-round pick. Although his medical results revealed some concerning knee issues (cartilage), all signs still point to the versatile Valentine being a sought after commodity given his all-around ability and most important, his vision as a passer.
Best Defender: Kris Dunn
Already recognized earlier for his speed, Dunn has the quickness and acumen to be a very capable defender at the next level. At this point, it’s fair to say his defense is ahead of his offense, and this should absolutely get him on the floor early and often. The ability to defend one’s position is incredibly important and Dunn can potentially cover either guard position. He plays the passing lanes, is a strong on-ball defender and has the ability to force steals at a high rate. Desire on this end is key, but his possessing athletic ability to go with it gives him a lot of potential in defending the league’s deepest position.
Best Rebounder: Domantas Sabonis
From his early days of European junior basketball, the son of Hall-of-Famer Arvydas Sabonis showed an acumen for grabbing boards. He averaged 11.8 rpg and his rebounding percentage was 20.1% during his time at Gonzaga. His instinct seems to be almost natural, though he works really hard, has great fundamental ability and should be great at keeping possessions alive. He is not seen as a big time athlete, but rebounding translates and Sabonis will help your team here right away.
Best Competitor: Jamal Murray
This is always a tough one, as what exactly measures competitive ability? We assume every player wants to win games and many will go to great lengths to do so. What Murray seems to have is that ability to turn up the intensity when the lights are on. His play this past summer during the Pan-Am games was just one example, as while he was not going up against the USA’s A-squad, his impressive 22-point performance in the semi-finals all came in the 4th quarter and OT. It really seems that beyond his skill as a basketball player, he is going to do whatever it takes to impact the game.
Highest Risk: Marquese Chriss
There are absolutely plays that Chriss made this season that screamed high level athleticism, even by NBA standards. He has near prototype PF size, some semblance of ball skills and a shooting stroke that teams can surely work with. He’s only 18-years old and while his production as a freshman was solid, there are some areas for concern. His defensive rebounding rate was troubling, along with his having fouled out of a staggering 15 games. His age makes him incredibly enticing, but there will be a long development process ahead, and there’s a chance all the hype has created unrealistic expectations.
Lowest Risk: Ben Simmons
Even if Simmons does not turn into what one defines as a “franchise” player, at the NBA level, you know that you are getting a rare basketball player. He is 6’10” and moves, handles and passes like a guard, all while having little issue asserting his size. He may not have shown any semblance of a consisntent shot, but he was able to get into the paint, do great things in transition and his passing absolutely helps spread the floor. It is not enough that he is a player you actually want taking a defensive rebound coast-to-coast, but he also has tremendous vision and the ability to make plays for others. His passing ability stretches the floor, and his ability to finish at the basket and get to the foul line should both translate immediately.
1st Round Sleeper: Dejounte Murray
He may not exactly be a sleeper any more, with a Green Room invite in his pocket, though he was at a time. Murray has fantastic size for a guard, with ball skills and showed the ability to set up teammates. He still absolutely needs to add strength, improve his decision making and keep his handle a bit tighter, though he has some amazing quickness and was a total stat sheet stuffer at Washington. He has a great nose for the ball and in time could be a very tough match-up, and while his jump shot needs work, there is a lot of potential to be excited about.
2nd Round Sleeper: Pascal Siakam
The big man from Cameroon had a massive sophomore season, which firmly put him on the draft radar and it is not necessarily written that he will last until the 2nd round. With a great frame, including a 7’3” wingspan, Siakam has ability to get rebounds out of his area and a developing offensive game. He also shows excellent foot speed to guard bigs and also smaller players on the perimeter. The game will be much faster than what he is used to once he gets to the league, though he is a solid athlete and while he is not the most fluid player, the improvement he showed during college could mean good things as far as how he fits in at the next level.
Undrafted Sleeper: Kyle Wiltjer
This is also not written, as Wiltjer could still hear his name called on draft day. If not, he was one of college basketball’s premier shooters and all-around scorers during his time at Gonzaga. At 6’10”, Wiltjer stretches the floor like few others, plus has a flat out knack for scoring the basketball. Teams might wonder who he covers at the next level, though if you can hide him or help him, Wiltjer is someone who could keep defenses honest off the bench with unlimited "in the gym range".
Jason Maxiell Award (Largest differential between height without shoes and wingspan)
High Risk/High Reward
1st Round Sleepers
2nd Round Sleepers
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