With the NBA Draft quickly approaching on June 21st, here are the top ten prospects at the small forward position.
1. Michael Porter Jr., Missouri
Turn back the clock a year and Michael Porter Jr. looked poised to challenge for the number one overall pick. Now, however, he’s one of the biggest mystery men in the draft. After missing the vast majority of the past season and playing poorly in the few games he did play, he was surpassed by a handful of prospects. Now, to make things worse, he’s had to cancel a workout due to a hip issue. When fully healthy, Porter is the ideal small forward prospect. He’s a 6-10 scorer that can handle the ball on the outside and create matchup problems for opponents. Many saw him as the second coming of Kevin Durant. While that talk is obviously premature, but he looked to be a sure fire star in the league. Now, that’s no sure thing. He’s become one of the biggest boom or bust prospects in this draft. Any team that drafts Porter could be getting a transcendent superstar, but they also could end up getting a player with a broken down body that is never able to produce, which is also reminiscent of the Oden/Durant draft back in 2007, and that risk didn’t really work out for Portland.
2. Mikal Bridges, Villanova
Mikal Bridges is a guy that was super successful in college at Villanova, winning two titles in three years. Despite coming into the draft as a junior, he still has room to grow as a player and has shown throughout his college career that he has the skill set to come in and help a team right out of the gate. He projects primarily as a 3-and-D wing that will be primarily a role player, but could grow into an integral part of the team that selects him. Bridges seems to be one of the safer picks available in the lottery. He may not grow into a star, but he is a player that can fit into any team that drafts him. His "situational fit" doesn’t figure to matter with him nearly as much as some of the other prospects on this list. He is a well-rounded player that blends athleticism and skill and will be able to defend multiple positions.
3. Kevin Knox, Kentucky
Knox, like Michael Porter, is a player where any team considering drafting him will have to weigh the risks and rewards. He’s one of the youngest players in the draft and has a lot of room to develop, but he also showed uneven effort at times last season and has some warts in his game. Still, he stands 6-9, can shoot, and can play either forward position. While Knox has three point range, he’s best driving to the basket and finishing with floaters or posting smaller defenders. He may have even more upside, however, he isn’t the plug and play prospect that Bridges is. Knox needs to be on a team that plays to his strengths. When driving or in transition, Knox struggles with his court vision and isn’t good at passing in those situations. He’ll need to improve in that area to avoid getting himself into trouble and turning the ball over. Any team that chooses him will need to have a patient approach to bringing him along. As his pro day proved, his conditioning could be an issue and could potentially lead to him sliding a bit on draft day.
4. Jacob Evans, Cincinnati
Evans is unlike the previous entries on this list. He’s a player whose biggest attribute is his defense. He is a player that can lockdown opposing players on the perimeter and change the complexion of a game on that end of the court. His offense lags behind his defense, but his outside shot is smooth enough that there is optimism that his NBA 3-point range will develop over time. However, he is an older prospect, so how much growth he has in his game is debatable. Offensively he is passive and inconsistent, and often didn’t stand out at the college level. Then again his system didnlt exactly look to feature anyone, and his main focus was shutting down top opposing players. Teams will look at him and know that he is a player that will be fine playing his role within a team structure without rocking the boat too much. They’ll also hope that he can become the second coming of Tony Allen.
5. Chandler Hutchison, Boise State
Nicknamed the terminator by those arround him due to his no nonsense approach to his workout circuit, Hutchison may be the best player that the average fan didn’t see play last season. He has the prototypical frame from a forward in today’s league, with a 7-foot wingspan. He can score in a variety of ways and has the size and athleticism to defend multiple positions. He can rebound and is an all-around very good prospect. However, he has a thin frame and was up and down in games against top tier competition. After four years in college in which he developed nicely, he will need to continue that development in order to match up with NBA small forwards on a nightly basis. He opted out of the combine and it’s possible he has received a promise from somebody (Chicago is who we first reported at 22) in the second half of the first round.
6. Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State
Keita Bates-Diop has the size and length that any team looks for from their forwards. He’s 6-8 and has a massive 7-3 wingspan that should allow him the opportunity to develop into a strong defender at the NBA level. It took until his senior year at Ohio State to get things figured out, but he broke out in a big way this past season. While he can shoot, he is incredibly streaky and can settle for bad shots at times. He can score in transition and can absorb contact from defenders. However, it will be interesting to see how he adjusts from being the man at Ohio State to being a role player for an NBA franchise. If he can focus on filling a role, he could be a real asset to the team that drafts him, but he’ll have to reign in his shot selection and be more efficient.
7. Josh Okogie, Georgia Tech
Josh Okogie , unlike the others on this list, is more of a small forward / shooting guard combo, and depending on the team that selects him on draft night, he could end up at either position. Despite being 6-4, he is a capable small forward because of his length and ridiculous athleticism. The athleticism allows him to matchup with players bigger and stronger than him. He is a prolific scorer and can score from all three levels. In addition to his scoring, he also rebounds the ball well and shoots the ball well from range. How much his game will translate to the next level is a bit of a question mark at this point.
8. Melvin Frazier, Tulane
Frazier might be the freakiest athlete on this entire list. Coming out of Tulsa, he showed very limited offense, and looking at the box scores, his numbers don’t blow you away. What will blow league executives away is his athleticism. At 6-6, he has a 40.5” vertical and a 31” standing vertical. His size and athleticism should make him an impact player on defense, but that’s not all he brings to the table. Despite flawed jump shot mechanics, he shot 38.5% from three last season despite being the focus of opposing teams’ scouting reports. At the next level, he should get more open looks, and if he can hit outside shots and improve upon his ball handling, he’ll be able to take advantage of hard closeouts and flash his athleticism. He looks like a prospect that could potentially be worthwhile early in the second round.
9. Dzanan Musa, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Musa is a 6-9 forward with a thin frame and a penchant for scoring from the outside. He shoots it well and is able and willing to shoot it from well beyond the three point line. He is one of the more skilled athletes in this year’s draft and could step in and play a role for an NBA team on day one if it was only about skill level. However, he has some issues. For one, his body needs work. Despite his 6’9 height, he only right around 200 pounds, and his body is not defined. He could benefit from an NBA strength and conditioning regiment more than just about any prospect. He plays hard and is super intense on the court, but can sometimes that can get the best of him. His body language might be a bit of an issue for NBA teams. When things go south, he can struggle to hide his emotions, and has a rep for not being the most supportive or likable teammate. Defensively he is a near non-factor, meaning he has to be scoring to truly help his team, which limits his effectiveness.
10. Jarred Vanderbilt, Kentucky
Vanderbilt’s freshman season was marred by injuries and inconsistency. He showed flashes, but also struggled to shoot from any range, whether it was from three or right underneath the rim. However, when healthy he is a point forward that rebounds exceptionally well, similar to what Lamar Odom was. In his freshman season at Kentucky, Vanderbilt had a total rebound rate of 25.7%, meaning that during his time on the court, 1 out of every 4 rebounds ended up in his hands, and he averaged 18.5 rebounds per 40 minutes. In addition to his rebounding, he is an excellent passer. He excels at getting rebounds and taking off to lead the break. Because of this, he could be an absolute steal for a team. On the flipside of that, though, he must refine his shooting if he wants to be the total package. Otherwise he can become a liability on offense. Playing only 14 games in college certainly hurt his stock, but he does have the skill set to find a role on a team. The thing that has to scare teams is his history of leg and ankle injuries. Skill set means nothing if a player can’t stay on the court.
Honorable Mention: Deng Adel 6-7 200 SF Louisville Jr., Leron Black 6-7 220 SF Illinois Jr., Rodney Bullock 6-8 225 SF Providence Sr., Jeffrey Carroll 6-6 215 SG Oklahoma State Sr., Kameron Chatman 6-8 225 SG/SF Detroit Jr., Vince Edwards 6-8 225 SF Purdue Sr., Wenyen Gabriel 6-9 205 SF/PF Kentucky So., Marc Garcia 6-7 185 SG FC Barcelona 1996, Donte Grantham 6-8 215 SF/PF Clemson Sr., Kevin Hervey 6-8 215 SF/PF Texas Arlington Sr., Cameron Johnson 6-8 210 SF North Carolina Jr., BJ Johnson 6-7 200 SF LaSalle Sr., George King 6-6 220 SF Colorado Sr., Rodions Kurucs 6-9 220 SF FC Barcelona 1998, Terry Larrier 6-8 195 SF UConn Jr., Kelan Martin 6-6 230 SF/PF Butler Sr., Max Montana 6-9 210 SF San Diego St. Jr., Theo Pinson 6-6 210 SG North Carolina Sr., Kendall Stephens 6-7 205 SG/SF Nevada Sr., Yuta Watanabe 6-9 195 PF George Washington Sr., Kenrich Williams 6-7 200 SF TCU Sr.