It’s one thing to hear about a prospect you haven’t seen play much, but a comparison to a current NBA player is usually more illuminating, not to mention fun. As a rule, we can assume that the worst case scenario for each of these players is being a total bust and washing out of the league, so we added a “disappointing but realistic” designation to show the potential downside for each player (assuming they’re good enough to make and play in the league, but don’t live up to their potential).
Think Kwame Brown, who played 12+ years in the NBA and averaged 11 points and 8 rebounds in 30 minutes his third year, rather than Anthony Bennett, who is the definition of a bust and literally never did anything in the league.
Some of these are exact, trait-for-trait comps. Some are career comps, meaning there are differences between the players, but they would have a similar impact in the league and fill a similar role during their career. Most are a combination of both.
1. Markelle Fultz – 6’4 G – Washington
Best Case Scenario: Steph Curry + Andre Iguodala morphed into one person. Or John Wall/Bradley Beal, but longer. Or James Harden/Penny Hardaway. There really is no one person he reminds us of; it’s more combinations of multiple different players. The point is, they’re all great. Fultz has Hall of Fame-level upside.
A Disappointing, but Realistic Scenario: He ends up as a 6’4 version of Rudy Gay. A perfectly fine player, but one who coasts through without ever really leaving his mark or making anyone else better.
2. Lonzo Ball – 6’6 PG – UCLA
Best Case Scenario: Jason Kidd with a jumper. Hall of Famer.
A Disappointing, but Realistic Scenario: A lesser Ricky Rubio; someone who struggles to have a big impact on the game despite good assist numbers.
3. Josh Jackson – 6’7 F – Kansas
Best Case Scenario: A bigger, badder version of peak Andre Iguodala. A star, perfectly built for the modern NBA.
A Disappointing, but Realistic Scenario: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, but not as bad offensively.
4. De’Aaron Fox – 6’3 PG – Kentucky
Best Case: A longer, souped-up Mike Conley with a splash of young John Wall.
A Disappointing, but Realistic Scenario: Elfrid Payton 2.0. Not the same exact player, but he runs into the same issues as Payton, which limits his growth.
5. Jayson Tatum – 6’8 F – Duke
Best Case Scenario: A blend of Paul Pierce and Carmelo Anthony.
A Disappointing, but Realistic Scenario: A shorter Rudy Gay. A guy who gets buckets, but isn’t efficient and brings little else to the table.
6. Jonathan Isaac – 6’11 F – Florida State
Best Case Scenario: Peak Rashard Lewis combined with a young Serge Ibaka, but better than either ever was. A “human” version of Durant.
A Disappointing, but Realistic Scenario: Channing Frye with better defense.
7. Malik Monk – 6’3 SG – Kentucky
Best Case Scenario: Imagine Steph Curry playing off the ball. Now take 75% of that (still pretty good).
A Disappointing, but Realistic Scenario: A poor man’s Monta Ellis. A small, streaky guard who hogs the ball, doesn’t make anyone better, and struggles on defense, but can score in bunches off the bench when he’s hot.
8. Frank Ntilikina – 6’5 PG – France
Best Case Scenario: A taller Chauncey Billups. He may not blow by you, but he will make you pay from the perimeter and kill you on defense.
A Disappointing, but Realistic Scenario: Arron Afflalo, the current version.
9. Dennis Smith Jr. – 6’2 PG – NC State
Best Case Scenario: A little bit of Damian Lillard, a little bit of a young Steve Francis (before it got ugly).
A Disappointing, but Realistic Scenario: Brandon Jennings Lite. Not efficient, bad on defense, stuck scoring empty points on losing teams.
10. Lauri Markkanen – 7’0 PF/C – Arizona
Best Case Scenario: Dirk…ish. Hard to imagine anyone doing what Dirk did, but the tools are there for Lauri to be an elite scorer in the NBA.
A Disappointing, but Realistic Scenario: Kelly Olynyk with a higher three-point percentage
11. Donovan Mitchell – 6’3 G – Louisville
Best Case Scenario: A combination of D-Wade and Marcus Smart who isn’t as good as Wade, but much better than Smart.
A Disappointing, but Realistic Scenario: Marcus Smart, with none of the D-Wade.
12. Zach Collins
Best Case Scenario: Serge Ibaka before he fell off.
A Disappointing, but Realistic Scenario: Amir Johnson, before the disintegration of his ankles.
13. Harry Giles
Best Case Scenario: A less obnoxious Dwight Howard, built for the modern age.
A Disappointing, but Realistic Scenario: Out of the league with injuries.
14. OG Anunoby
Best Case Scenario: Kawhi Leonard with a much more modest offensive arsenal.
A Disappointing, but Realistic Scenario: Al-Farouq Aminu.
15. Luke Kennard
Best Case Scenario: A blend of JJ Redick and Michael Redd. Halfway between the two of them in style and talent.
A Disappointing, but Realistic Scenario: Nik Stauskas, with less athleticism. Not a great combo.