Ranking the Best Perimeter Defenders in 2017 NBA Draft

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterApril 11, 2017

Ranking the Best Perimeter Defenders in 2017 NBA Draft

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    Strong perimeter defenders hold substantial value in today's NBA. Teams want guards who can contain dribble penetration and wings who cover multiple positions. 

    Foot speed, length, awareness and versatility are all major factors in measuring and projecting a prospects' defensive potential. 

    Here we are ranking perimeter defense in a vacuum—not each prospect's NBA potential. The rankings themselves are based on future projections of perimeter defenders—not solely stats from the season. Our No. 5 defender may have been more effective this year, but No. 4's tools and athleticism suggest his game will translate to the pros more smoothly.  

    Note that the prospects that follow have not officially declared for the draft. Some haven't hired agents, so they could back out. Regardless, all have the tools to fit in the NBA as perimeter defenders starting this year.

5. De'Aaron Fox (Kentucky, PG, Freshman)

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    Draft status: Declared with agent 

    De'Aaron Fox didn't always perform like a top-five defender, but his unteachable quickness and playmaking instincts create a promising foundation. 

    He's going to pester opposing ball-handlers with his blazing foot speed and snapping hands, which combine to apply pressure and force turnovers (1.5 steals per game). He has pickpocket potential and is capable of beating his man to the spot and cleanly poking the rock away.

    Off the ball, we've seen Fox emulate NFL cornerbacks by baiting the passer and timing his jump. He crept up for numerous intercepted passes from the point to the wing, resulting in easy fastbreak finishes the other way.

    He'll have to strengthen his body and awareness in terms of navigating through screens, and with a 6'4 ½" wingspan, he isn't long. Still, considering his athleticism, size, energy, youth and perceived coachability, it's easy to buy Fox evolving into a plus NBA defender.

4. Terrance Ferguson (Adelaide 36ers, SG/SF, 1998)

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    Draft status: Expected to declare 

    Projecting Terrance Ferguson top five in perimeter defense means expecting his effectiveness to rise with age. He got outmuscled against pros in Australia's National Basketball League, but at 18 years old, it wasn't a surprise or red flag.

    Even after shooting 31.3 percent from deep, his three-and-D potential will still draw first-round attention. Ferguson, an interchangeable wing from the 3 to the 2, combines 6'7" size and enough lateral quickness to defend ball-handers as well as off-guards and small forwards. 

    He moves his feet and challenges jump shots. And though not strong, he makes the effort to fight and recover. He'll also bounce on his toes defending off the ball and focus on keeping his man from being able to catch and shoot or attack. 

    Though a project, promising tools, mobility and attitude suggest Ferguson will eventually be a versatile defensive asset.

3. OG Anunoby (Indiana, SF, Sophomore)

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    Draft status: Declared with agent 

    OG Anunoby didn't need a full second year (season-ending knee injury) for scouts to buy into his defensive upside. The flashes alone through 50 career games at Indiana should be enough to secure first-round love.

    Lapses in effort and judgment hold him back, but from a talent perspective, it's tough to beat Anunoby's mix of size, length, quickness and explosiveness. Standing 6'8" with a reported 7'6" wingspan and fast, light feet, he's difficult to pass around, shoot over or get by. 

    Before going down in January, his immaculate tools and athleticism translated to 2.1 steals and 2.1 blocks per 40 minutes. There is potential for Anunoby to become a No. 1 stopper and asset in pick-and-roll coverage.

    There isn't a more versatile defender in the draft. He lacks polish and a consistent motor, and he'll be coming off a significant knee injury. But Anunoby's defensive ceiling is high enough to make teams overlook his severe offensive limitations and small sample size of action. 

2. Josh Jackson (Kansas, SF, Freshman)

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    Draft status: Declared with agent 

    There's a sense we haven't seen Josh Jackson's best on defense. Lack of strength and discipline occasionally hurt him at Kansas, but there is room for his body and maturity to improve.

    Coaches can't teach Jackson's quickness or competitiveness. He forces turnovers (1.7 steals per game) by getting into the grills of opposing ball-handlers, and he does an effective job of keeping them in front, showing the ability to dig in, get low and slide.

    Off the ball, he's a regular threat to jump a passing lane or tap into his athleticism for a highlight block.

    A two-way playmaker who'll guard three positions, Jackson also defends with contagious intensity. Channeling it will be something to work on, but his constant defensive energy should trump occasional lapses in judgment. 

1. Frank Ntilikina (France, PG/SG, 1998)

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    Draft status: Expected to declare 

    Frank Ntilikina can't match the top NCAA guards' explosiveness or playmaking, but they aren't bringing the same impactful ball pressure or versatility.

    He's a human blanket around the perimeter, difficult to shake or beat, thanks to tremendous foot speed and a monster wingspan reported to be 7'0" long. He picks up deflections and rejections without even having to leave his feet. Ntilikina does an outstanding job of sliding laterally, anticipating moves and taking the right route to get through or avoid screens.

    And at 6'5" with his size and length, he'll guard ball-handlers, 2s and wings and can switch onto small-ball 4s without being completely outmatched.

    He totaled 13 steals and seven blocks through six games before being named MVP of the 2016 FIBA U18 European Championship. Disciplined and quick, boasting overwhelming tools, Ntilikina projects as the draft's top perimeter defender. 

    Wingspans courtesy of DraftExpress.com