It’s no secret that this draft is about the point guards. Our own Tim Livingston wrote about the entire class here. It looks great; you’ve got Fultz and Ball, plus about three or four other dudes with a chance to be All-Stars, but there are other players at other positions to pay attention to this spring. Some of them may even be great. They’re just really difficult to rank, even for the people paid to do it. Mock Drafts are all over the place and so are NBA scouts’ opinions.
There’s a pretty clear delineation between the top five and six through ten, but beyond that, the truth is really in the eye of the beholder. It’s easy to imagine any one of the top five players on this list becoming the best non-point guard in the draft. That being said, we did our best, starting with a group of players who barely missed the list, but all have potential, in their own way, to be impact players in the league.
John Collins, 6’10, PF, Wake Forest, Sophomore
Collins put up great numbers (19.2 ppg, 9.8 rpg) for Wake Forest and doesn’t seem to have any major red flags. He may struggle to find a true position in the NBA, though. He’s probably too small to be a center and doesn’t shoot well enough (yet) to be a stretch four.
Pro Comparison: Poor man’s LaMarcus Aldridge
Justin Jackson, 6’8, SF, North Carolina, Junior
Jackson was highly ranked as a recruit, so the upside should be there. The question boils down to this: is the improvement (37%) he showed from behind the arc this year real, or is he closer to the guy we saw his first two years in college (30%, 29%) and during the tournament (7 for 31 on threes the final four games of UNC’s title run)?
Pro Comparison: Jeff Green
TJ Leaf, 6’10, PF, UCLA, Freshman
The offensive skill set should keep him in the top tax bracket for years to come. Defense is where his foot-speed issues could hurt him. He also struggled mightily against top competition. It’s a small sample size, but not a good sign. He also (probably) won’t have Lonzo Ball passing to him in the pros.
Pro Comparison: A much better looking version of Kelly Olynyk
Harry Giles, 6’10, PF, Duke, Freshman
Respected recruiting analysts once called this kid the best prospect they had seen in YEARS. Now he looks like a shell of his former self, after undergoing at least three knee surgeries (that we know about). The workouts and medical exams will be key with this kid. Depending on the results, he could be a lottery pick or barely make the first round. If all he needs is time to get back to what he was, then he’s a tremendous bargain anywhere outside the top ten. The problem is, it’s been so long since he’s been healthy that people are starting to forget what that looks like.
10. Justin Patton, 7’0, C, Creighton, Freshman
On one hand, the guy is a true seven-footer with decent defensive/rebounding instincts, good mobility, and nice (lefty) touch around the hoop and who’s skyrocketed up draft boards over the past six months. On the other hand, he was very lightly recruited as a high school player and hasn’t dominated despite the (mostly) mid-major competition he faced at Creighton. He also has a ways to go to pull everything together and doesn’t seem to do any one thing really well. Teams need to do their homework here. If they get the sense he’s a worker, roll the dice. If he thinks he’s already arrived, take a pass. It seems like obvious advice, but it’s especially true when it comes to raw big men. Our bet is on the latter, but the kid has so many physical gifts that even a halfway decent work ethic could prove us very wrong.
Pro Comparison: Tyson Chandler with more offensive skill
9. Zach Collins, 7’0, PF/C, Gonzaga, Freshman
Collins will be compared a lot to TJ Leaf, mostly because they’re both white and about the same size. Beyond that, though, they aren’t really that similar. If you’re looking for pure shooting, offensive polish, and basketball IQ, go with Leaf. However, Collins gets the nod because he plays way better against elite competition and has superior athleticism, defense (two blocks per game in just 17 minutes), and toughness. He also has enough offensive polish around the hoop (and out on the perimeter) to give teams hope that he will develop into a threat at that end beyond a dunker/put-back guy. His .743 FT% is a nice number for a true seven-footer.
Pro Comparison: Hard to judge in limited minutes, but reminds us a little of a young Serge Ibaka
No 8: OG Anunoby, 6’8, SF, Indiana, Sophomore
In the top seven or eight, this pick should make your fan base sick to their stomach. At 14 or 15, however, the prospect of Anunoby begins to get pretty tasty. OG has a little bit of Marcus Smart in his game in that his strengths and weaknesses are ultra-pronounced. The guy is a freak athlete with a fully developed NBA body and a (reported) 7’6 wingspan, and his jumper isn’t totally broken. But he shot 31% from three and 52% from the foul line as a sophomore and his offensive game lacks more than a little polish. Definitely a roll of the dice, but a decently high floor because of his defensive upside and ability to hit wide open threes. If he improves his shooting, the upside is quite high, but you can say that for a lot of players.
7. Jarrett Allen, 6’11, PF/C, Texas, Freshman
Allen has a wingspan of nearly 7’6 and showed major signs of improvement towards the end of his freshmen year at Texas. His strengths and weaknesses also line up nicely with the NBA game. He projects as a center, so his occasional trouble guarding small-ball power forwards on the perimeter shouldn’t hurt him too badly. His lack of offensive polish won’t really be a big deal, as he won’t be expected to do anything other than dunk for at least a few years, maybe his entire career. What he can do is cover a lot of ground on defense and finish around the rim on offense. As long as you don’t expect him to start right away or stretch the floor, Allen projects as prototypical modern center.
Pro Comparison: Nerlens Noel (or a better version of Amir Johnson)
6. Terrance Ferguson, 6’7, SG/SF, Adelaide (Australia)
The 18-year-old went to Australia for a year to play pro basketball rather than play in college for Arizona because Deion Sanders fucked him over. Yes, you read that right. Deion’s school in Dallas, Prime Prep, was an athletic powerhouse, but turned out to be somewhat of a sham academically, at least according to the NCAA accreditation folks. The credits didn’t count, so Ferguson ended up in Australia. It’s the same reason Emmanuel Mudiay played in China instead of at SMU (he also attended Prime Prep). As a player, Ferguson projects as a 3-and-D wing with limited upside, but a very nice skill set for the modern NBA.
Pro Comparison: JR Smith without the mental baggage
5. Lauri Markkanen, 7’0, PF, Arizona, Freshman
There’s a lot to like here, starting with a legit seven-foot frame and a dead-eye three-point stroke. Markkanen may already be one of the best shooters ever for his height: he shot 42.3% from three and 83.5% from the FT line. He also showed better than expected skills down low in the few games where matchups and/or injuries forced him off the perimeter. The potential is there to be an offensive juggernaut if he can get better with the ball in his hands and develop beyond a spot-up shooter/finisher. On defense, the outlook is more worrisome: he will get pushed around by more physical big men and he struggles in pick-n-roll defense. He’s also not quick enough to cover the new breed of stretch 4’s taking over the NBA. He’s somewhat of a defensive ‘tweener entering a league where coaches are getting better and better at exposing such players.
4. Miles Bridges, 6’6, SF, Michigan State, Freshman
Most experts have Markkanen ranked higher, but Bridges may be the most underrated prospect in the draft. The main knock on him is that he has a power forward’s body type and skill set, but the height of a two-guard. That shouldn’t worry you too much because he can guard multiple positions due to his outrageous athleticism and Draymond-like toughness. As long as you can guard bigger players, it really doesn’t matter how tall you are in the NBA. Some players just play taller than they are, and Bridges is one of them. He also stuffed the stat sheet for MSU and was their all-everything leader as a freshman. His outside shot is a work in progress, but he shot 39% from three on five attempts per game. If he improves on that even a little bit, he will have a very bright future in the league.
Pro Comparison: Larry Johnson
3. Josh Jackson, 6’8, SF, Kansas, Freshman
Here’s where our list really veers off from conventional wisdom. Jackson is widely considered the third best prospect (or even second, according to some) in this draft due to his defensive versatility, athleticism, production, competitiveness, and high basketball IQ. We aren’t saying he sucks or anything – he may even be the right choice at #3 for certain teams (Phoenix, for example) – but his 56% FT shooting scares the shit out of us and we don’t trust his outside shot despite a noticeable uptick in his 3-point percentage the second half of the season. His overall offensive skill set leaves a little bit to be desired and there isn’t a ton of evidence to suggest that he will develop into the type of offensive player that justifies the #3 overall pick in a loaded draft. However, if his 3-point shooting after Jan. 20th (over 50%) is for real, he belongs at the top of this list. We just don’t think it is.
Pro Comparison: If Paul George were less gifted offensively
2. Jonathan Isaac, 6’10, SF/PF, Florida State, Freshman
Most mock drafts have him going in the 8-10 range, but many of the players going ahead of him just happen to be more polished. Isaac is long (7’1 wingspan), has a nice 3-point stroke, and can run the floor like a gazelle. He also put up good numbers for a competitive Florida State team – including a couple of games that he dominated – despite being nowhere close to a finished product. How many players in the NBA excel at outside shooting and blocking shots? The list isn’t long. He shot 35% from three and 78% from the line for the season, and perhaps more importantly, he has a smooth stroke that doesn’t look broken at all and will improve with more practice. The main knocks on Isaac are his body (he only weighs 210 lbs) and the fact that he’s raw and far from a finished product. Gaining weight shouldn’t be a problem with modern NBA nutrition, and the need to bulk up is overrated anyway. As for being raw, almost no one-and-done players contribute immediately anyway, so why not take the guy who you think will be best in the long run? Josh Jackson will go ahead of him and look better as a rookie, but we bet Isaac ends up as the better player down the road.
1. Jayson Tatum, 6’8, SF, Duke, Freshman
Tatum has had a fully formed offensive game since kindergarten. Okay, not really, but judging by the tape, it’s been there at least since his junior year in high school. He’s a very good operator in the mid-range and possesses great offensive instincts. There are two main concerns about Tatum: will his somewhat limited athleticism stop him from getting by quicker defenders going to the hoop or from becoming an above average multi-positional defender, and will his three-point shot ever catch up to his mid-range jumper? His feel for the game should allow him to get to the hoop despite not being an uber-athlete, sort of like Paul Pierce or Carmelo have been able to, and his 6’11 wingspan should make up for his foot-speed deficiency on defense. Most importantly for a modern wing player, his natural shooting ability and work ethic should turn him into a more than capable outside shooter before too long.
Pro Comparison: Paul Pierce if things go well, Rudy Gay if they don’t