Ranking Top 2016 NBA Draft Prospects with the Most Long-Term Potential

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterJanuary 25, 2016

Ranking Top 2016 NBA Draft Prospects with the Most Long-Term Potential

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    Knowing how few prospects can actually help right away, teams put a ton of stock in long-term potential when evaluating for the NBA draft. 

    For the most part, potential is fueled by a combination of athleticism, physical tools and skills. 

    These rankings don't reflect where I believe each player should be drafted. Instead, the following 10 prospects are ranked based on the height of their ceilings. 

    I'd argue prospect No. 7 may be the better option than prospect No. 5 when taking risk versus reward into account. But if all of the prospects maximize their potential, this is how I feel they'd stack up 10 years down the road. 

10. Jamal Murray (Kentucky, SG, Freshman)

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    Highly skilled and oozing with confidence, Jamal Murray projects as an NBA scorer. He lacks point guard instincts and 2-guard athleticism—wrinkles in his profile that suggest we temper any All-Star expectations—but there is no denying his ability to create shots and generate offense.

    Murray's offense is built around his jumper and ability to hit tough, contested or unorthodox shots. He's flashed unlimited shooting range (2.6 threes per game, 37.9 percent), whether he's pulling up off the dribble or catching and releasing. And he's shown a knack for making off-balanced righty and lefty one-handers in the lane.

    By the time he's peaked, I don't think there is any question the scoring production will be there. But efficiency will be tough for him to achieve, and for that reason, I see him more as a third offensive option than a go-to one at the NBA level.

9. Jakob Poeltl (Utah, C, Sophomore)

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    Jakob Poeltl's floor might actually be a more convincing selling point than his ceiling. There is a sense of security tied to his 7'0" size, mobility and defense, which can go a long way in what may be an underwhelming 2016 draft field. 

    We haven't seen many back-to-the-basket bigs (who can't stretch the floor) emerge as stars in quite a while. Poeltl's lack of shooting touch and range may keep him from ever becoming a notable NBA scorer. 

    However, his rim protection, defensive versatility, rebounding instincts (13.1 boards per 40 minutes) and finishing ability (63.7 percent from the floor) could carry him to a long career as a starter.

    Poeltl has the chance to anchor a team's interior. And though he doesn't project as a go-to option, the target he presents in the pick-and-roll game, as well as his improved low-post moves, should still hold offensive value. 

    In terms of upside, think Jonas Valanciunas meets Andrew Bogut. 

8. Henry Ellenson (Marquette, PF, Freshman)

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    Size, mobility and ball skills are behind Henry Ellenson's appealing stretch 4 potential.

    His shooting range isn't fully there yet, but there is reason to be optimistic. He's hit 16 threes, shot 41.9 percent on two-point jumpers, per Hoop-Math.com, and a respectable 73.5 percent from the line. And he's looked good mechanically. 

    In the half court, he's a weapon in the pick-and-roll game, where he can pop out or dive to the hoop.

    And at 6'10", he's also a threat to take defensive rebounds coast to coast, thanks to a tight handle and impressive body control. 

    Otherwise, Ellenson isn't afraid to throw his body around inside (9.9 rebounds per game), where he has a strong nose for the ball and good hands. 

    A lack of lateral quickness and explosiveness around the basket will work against him defensively. But Ellenson's offensive versatility appears tailor-made for today's NBA frontcourt. I'd bank on him starting the majority of his games as a pro. 

7. Ivan Rabb (California, PF, Freshman)

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    At 18 years old, Ivan Rabb has enormous room for growth, yet he's still managed to average 18.2 points and 12.1 rebounds per 40 minutes on 64.2 percent shooting. He's been productive and efficient without having scratched the surface of his potential. 

    Rabb, 6'11", blends size with quickness and bounce. It's a combination that should continue translating to easy buckets, regardless how much his skills improve. 

    But there is good reason to buy into Rabb's expanding offensive game. He's shown soft touch in the mid-range (46.6 percent on two-point jumpers, per Hoop-Math.com, 73.1 percent from the line), as well as the ability to convert fallaways, hooks and up-and-under moves in the post. 

    Rabb also projects as a double-double machine, thanks to a live motor, nose for the ball and sensational hands.

    I wouldn't categorize Rabb as NBA-ready. He'll need a few years to build his body and inside-out repertoire. But if he can put together all the flashes, some team will have landed its power forward of the future. 

6. Skal Labissiere (Kentucky, PF/C, Freshman)

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    Despite all the trouble he's had, Skal Labissiere's potential hasn't completely disappeared. At 7'0", he still offers terrific size, bounce and foot speed, as well as some intriguing ball skills and touch. 

    Hopefully, his game and confidence will have resurfaced by the time he's added some bulk and a few years of regular reps. (He suffered from injuries and eligibility issues in high school.)

    Labissiere has a good-looking jumper and impressive shot-making ability in the post, where we've seen him convert over-the-shoulder turnarounds and hooks with either hand. He's also a big target for guards coming off penetration, as well as a threat to put back misses on the offensive glass. 

    Labissiere has a lot to learn and room to improve defensively, but with mobility, length and athleticism, he also has the tools to switch in pick-and-rolls and protect the rim. 

    Though he's stuck on the ground floor, his developmental elevator reaches the penthouse. It's what's likely to keep him in the lottery conversation, regardless of how productive he is the rest of the season.

5. Jaylen Brown (California, SF, Freshman)

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    Jaylen Brown has all the tools to develop into a quality starting two-way wing. Listed at 6'7", 225 pounds with a 7'0½" wingspan, he offers the size, strength and length to match his explosive leaping ability. 

    Without having to tap into any skills, his physical tools and athleticism naturally translate to layups and easy buckets in transition (37 field goals in transition through 20 games, per Hoop-Math.com). 

    Brown has the potential to become a dangerous attacker off drives, slashes and cuts. He takes 9.4 free-throw attempts per 40 minutes, which shows a knack for getting to the rim and the ability to play through contact. 

    But at this stage, Brown's shooting touch needs a lot of work. He's making just 27.6 percent of his threes, 31.2 percent of his two-point jumpers, per Hoop-Math.com, and 63.8 percent of his free throws. 

    There is Jimmy Butler-type upside to chase if Brown can make strides in his perimeter game.

4. Kris Dunn (Providence, PG, Junior)

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    A package of 6'4" size, 6'9" length, quickness and burst fuels Kris Dunn's potential. He blends speed with power, a mix built for the open NBA game. 

    And with terrific vision and passing instincts, Dunn should have the chance to become one of the league's better playmakers. 

    He ranks No. 1 in the country in assist percentage after finishing first in 2014-15, per Sports-Reference.com. Dunn is a terrific setup man off ball screens, penetration and transition opportunities. And he's a crafty scorer in the lane, with the ability to improvise and knock down tough layups and runners. 

    Dunn, whose 2.9 steals per game are good for second in the country, also has the foot speed, wingspan and anticipation to become a valuable defensive asset.

    Whether he reaches All-Star heights should come down to how much he improves his shooting and decision-making. It could mean the difference between Michael Carter-Williams and John Wall.

3. Dragan Bender (Croatia, PF, 1997)

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    You don't need a degree in NBA scouting to recognize Dragan Bender's potential. At 7'1", he shoots 41 percent from three, handles the ball, defends the perimeter and blocks shots at the rim. 

    His blend of size, mobility and ball skills creates an almost unparalleled package of two-way versatility. 

    Still just 18 years, Bender has established a reputation as both a highly skilled and intelligent player. 

    He's playing just 11.2 minutes per game overseas, and if he comes over right away, he isn't likely to offer much early. But long term, for a patient team, the upside tied to Bender should be worth the price of a top-three pick.

2. Brandon Ingram (Duke, SF, Freshman)

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    You won't find many NBA wings who can match Brandon Ingram's 6'9" size, 7'3" wingspan and fluid athleticism. Most players with those measurements play the 4 in the pros. But Ingram projects as a 2-guard or small forward, thanks to impressive face-up ball skills and shooting range.  

    He isn't as good as Kevin Durant was his freshman year at Texas, but Ingram plays a similar offensive game. 

    Jab steps into jumpers, pull-ups, fallaways, spot-ups—Ingram has flashed eye-opening perimeter-scoring ability. And he's shown the range, having hit 2.2 threes per game at a 41.9 percent clip. 

    And with a tight handle, he can operate off the dribble and make plays over the defense. 

    "We've played against Ben Simmons this year from LSU, we played against Brandon Ingram, and wouldn't be surprised to see his name called first this year. He's that good," North Carolina State head coach Mark Gottfried said, per the News and Observer's Laura Keeley. 

    Everything about Ingram screams mismatch. The only thing really working against his potential is that skinny, 190-pound frame. But he just turned 18 years old in September, so there is plenty of time for him to grow and strengthen his body.

1. Ben Simmons (LSU, PF, Freshman)

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    Nobody's ceiling is higher than Ben Simmons'. He is a 6'10" ball-handler loaded with athleticism and intelligence, and power forwards will have trouble keeping him in front, while small forwards should be overwhelmed by his 240-pound frame.

    We could also be talking about an elite passing (5.1 assists per game) "big man" who compares to LeBron James and Draymond Green. Simmons projects as a player through whom coaches may run offensive sets, given his ability to create easy scoring chances, whether they're out of pick-and-rolls, off penetration or in transition. 

    Without having to change or improve anything, Simmons should also become one of game's most dangerous open-floor weapons.

    There is no teaching his ability to score with both hands, control the glass (12.6 rebounds per game) or make his teammates better by setting them up. His jumper, which is the only thing holding him back, is correctable.