5 Most NBA-Ready Draft Prospects Today
We've already seen a number of NBA rookies who've established themselves as contributors and immediate threats. Minnesota Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns went for 28 points and 14 rebounds in just his second career game, while Philadelphia 76ers center Jahlil Okafor dropped 26 during his debut.
Like Towns and Okafor have early on, the following prospects appear ready to make an impact in year No. 1 as a pro.
When predicting NBA-readiness, we took into account everything from strong physical tools—the most common theme—to specific skills and various intangibles.
Those who didn't make the cut likely lacked strength, polish and experience. These are the five prospects we expect to emerge as rotation players or starters during their first year on the NBA job.
Ben Simmons (LSU, SF/PF)
NBA-Ready Strengths: Physical Tools, Athleticism, Ball-Handling/Passing, Basketball IQ
Ben Simmons would have to be the way-too-early favorite for 2017 NBA Rookie of the Year. He's super advanced in each phase of the college-to-pro transition: physically, mentally and fundamentally.
At LSU's preseason combine, Simmons measured 6'10", 240 pounds—strong numbers for an NBA power forward, never mind a wing or ball-handler. A 41 ½" max vertical leap reflects Simmons' above-the-rim burst, while a 11.06-second lane agility time and 2.9-second three-quarter court sprint (all-time record, according to the DraftExpress database) highlight insane quickness and foot speed.
Physically and athletically, he'll fit right in at both ends of the floor with advantageous size and explosiveness for the 3 position.
Meanwhile, Simmons' ball skills are razor-sharp. He handles it like a guard, which should translate to easy buckets in transition and playmaking ability in the half court. He's going to be a difficult face-up cover for opposing bigs right away.
Spectacular vision and passing instincts will also hold immediate value and give Simmons purpose on days his shot won't fall.
A strong feel for the game and high basketball IQ will only help him catch on faster.
He'd have likely been a top-five pick last June had he been eligible to declare. Look for Simmons to emerge as the country's top prospect and a starter in year No. 1 as a pro.
Kris Dunn (Providence, PG)
NBA-Ready Strengths: Physical Tools, Athleticism, Playmaking, Defense
Kris Dunn aces the NBA point guard eye test at 6'4" with a giant 6'9" wingspan. Regardless of whether he's closer to the 205 pounds he weighed in at during the LeBron James Nike Skills Academy or the 220 pounds Providence lists him at, Dunn's punch packs power, as well as quickness and speed.
In terms of physical tools and burst, he reminds a bit of Denver Nuggets rookie Emmanuel Mudiay, who despite sharing a similar turnover problem is off to a productive NBA start.
Electric in the open floor, Dunn's first step and change-of-direction shiftiness should immediately translate to half-court playmaking. Having led the country in assist percentage a season ago, according to Sports-Reference.com, Dunn is a dangerous passer. His ability to shake defenders frequently propels him into position to set teammates up off the dribble.
Had Dunn declared for last June's draft, he would have likely brought something to an NBA team on defense as a 2015-16 rookie. With exceptional length, foot speed and anticipation, he's a blanket at the point. Dunn uses his long arms, quick hands and feet to pressure ball-handlers and sneak into passing lanes. Last year, he finished fifth in the NCAAs in steals and steal percentage.
Dunn would really benefit from landing on a team with weapons and support, considering he coughed the ball up more than anyone in college hoops. Either way, he should be able to step onto the floor as a rookie and generate offense—even if we see a side effect of inefficiency due to shaky decision-making and shooting.
Jamal Murray (Kentucky, PG/SG)
NBA-Ready Strengths: Physical Tools, Skill Level, Confidence, Basketball IQ
Jamal Murray's rise has been pretty convincing, from his 30-point outburst at the Nike Hoop Summit to his play during the Pan American Games, where he averaged 16 points and practically single-handedly sunk the United States.
Despite being eight years younger than the tournament's average participant, Murray ranked No. 1 in isolation points per game and field-goal percentage, No. 3 in pick-and-roll points per game and top five in both scoring and assists, according to Synergy Sports Technology.
Physically, though not the most explosive guard, he does have some sneaky athleticism, as well as a solid 6'4", 207-pound frame for a ball-handler.
Still, it's Murray's skill level that could allow him to contribute and ultimately generate offense as a 2016-17 rookie. He's highly proficient in ball-screen situations, capable of setting the table for teammates, pulling up in space or attacking off the hesitation dribble.
A crafty playmaker with a sharp basketball IQ, Murray's jumper is also already dangerous (40.7 percent from three, 2.2 made threes per game during Pan Am Games). He's looked comfortable spotting up behind the arc or stopping-and-popping in the mid-range.
Unbreakable confidence should also help expedite the college-to-pro transition. Murray is fearless, having showcased the ability to take over stretches against seemingly helpless team defenses.
Don't count on Murray being asked to run an NBA team as a rookie. Instead, look for him to contribute in a role that allows him to create scoring chances as a secondary ball-handler and complement the primary options as a shooter.
Jaylen Brown (California, SG/SF)
NBA-Ready Strengths: Physical Tools, Athleticism, Skill Level, Competitiveness
Listed at 6'7", 225 pounds with a 7'0 ½" wingspan, Jaylen Brown already looks the part of an NBA wing. In terms of size, his measurements are close to Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler's (6'7", 220 pounds), only Brown comes in five inches longer.
The physical transition won't shut down Brown, whose strength, length and above-the-rim athleticism should allow him to immediately compete. He possesses the tools and quickness to defend tomorrow, while a mature frame and physical approach could lead to points after contact.
Brown has also showcased a developing skill level in terms of creating and making shots. He's proved he can generate offense from all three levels, whether he's finishing at the rim, separating into mid-range jumpers (and floaters) or knocking down the occasional three.
The fact that he's a hungry competitor with a live motor only strengthens his case as one of the more NBA-ready prospects.
Nearly half the teams in the league could ultimately use an upgrade at the 2 or 3 positions. If he lands on one of them, Brown should have the chance to start as a 2016-17 rookie.
Caris LeVert (Michigan, SG)
NBA-Ready Strengths: Physical Tools, Athleticism, Shooting, Ball-Handling/Passing
At 6'7", 205 pounds with a reported 7'1" wingspan, Caris LeVert has terrific size, length and quickness for an NBA guard. In comparison, he's two inches taller and 10 pounds heavier than Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford.
LeVert also possesses excellent lateral quickness and foot speed, which at the very least should allow him to hold his own defensively.
However, it's his particular offensive strengths that separate LeVert as NBA-ready.
He's proved to be a consistent three-point shooter, having made 92 of 226 triples (40.7 percent) over Michigan's last two seasons. With the ability to spread the floor and spot up from deep, LeVert shouldn't have much of a problem transitioning to a role off the ball—an adjustment many ball-dominant college guards struggle to make.
However, along with a convincing jumper, above-average playmaking and passing skills can also lead to early NBA minutes. Before going down last year with a foot injury, LeVert averaged 3.7 assists as the Wolverines' primary facilitator—as well his their top scoring option.
He's flashed the shiftiness off the dribble, vision and height to dish and finish over the defense, whether it's in the drive-and-kick or pick-and-roll game.
LeVert may never be an All-Star-caliber guard, but his two-way versatility should hold value and translate to any system or backcourt—from day one to year No. 10.