Best Comparisons for Every Top-30 Prospect in the NBA Draft
What if the top 2017 NBA draft prospects could scour the league's current depth charts and find Future Them?
They can't, because duh. But let's pretend it's possible and then find their future selves for them.
Each of these top-30 prospects was plucked and ordered in accordance with the latest big board from Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman. Comparisons will aim to identify realistic best-case scenarios for these kiddies.
Since we're limiting the scope to active talents, there must be some leeway. Decisions will take into account a number of factors, including play styles, body types, strengths, weaknesses and prospective improvements.
So let's find the spitting images of this year's top inbound basketball tots, shall we?
Note: Rodions Kurucs, the No. 29 player in Wasserman's latest big board, withdrew from Thursday's draft on June 15, which moved the Nos. 30 and 31 players on that list up to Nos. 29 and 30 on this list.
30. Mathias Lessort (France, PF/C, 1995): Tristan Thompson
This is how you know Tristan Thompson has made it—when he becomes the go-to typecast for dirty-work combo bigs who don't project to do more on offense than score off putbacks and out of the pick-and-roll.
Mathias Lessort, like Thompson, stands 6'9", with a slightly shorter wingspan (7'1"). He may end up being more of a scorer than Thompson but doesn't have the three-point range or off-the-dribble playmaking chops to function as a full-time 4.
Eventually, if not immediately, he will play more center than power forward. Teams won't bristle at his 6'9" frame when he has the length to switch half-court assignments, and he's already strong enough at 250 pounds to body up against plodding 5s.
29. Jawun Evans (Oklahoma State, PG, Sophomore): Kemba Walker
Jawun Evans comparisons are a special kind of wide-ranging. They vary from Raymond Felton to Ty Lawson and can peak at Kyle Lowry.
Kemba Walker is a nice a middle ground—a sneaky-strong floor general who should shine in a pick-and-roll system but finds ways to score and create when left to his own devices.
Evans checks in under 5'11" without shoes, so he's shorter than Walker, but he's also longer. His wingspan approaches 6'6", and he has a disarming center of gravity that'll let him hang tough with most floor generals and rotate onto some 2s.
Relative to a young Kemba, Evans will enter as the superior off-ball weapon and playmaker—he averaged 8.7 assists per 40 minutes as a sophomore. He'll have a tougher time scrapping on defense if he doesn't have the benefit of a stingy supporting cast, but his willingness to try blitzing through screens gives him a fairly good chance at developing into an even contributor on the less glamorous end.
28. Terrance Ferguson (Australia, SF, 1998): Terrence Ross
Sift through "The Super-Duper Big Book of Guidelines to Making NBA Prospect-to-Player Comparisons," and you'll find that page 673, paragraph four, bullet point 19 demands any potential first-round wing with the first name Terrance automatically be tied to Terrence Ross.
(This is neither a real book nor an actual rule.)
Terrance Ferguson is a hair longer than Ross, with a wingspan nearing 6'9", and he shows it on defense. He is aggressive on closeouts and will work harder to pester dribble-drivers.
Ross is the better shooter by far. Ferguson canned under 32 percent of his three-point attempts in Australia's National Basketball League, but he also enjoyed protracted stretches of success. He buried more than 38 percent of his long balls through his first 17 appearances of the season and should forge some semblance of consistency when he's not shuffling between starting and reserve roles.
27. Johnathan Motley (Baylor, PF/C, Junior): Gorgui Dieng
Johnathan Motley has the type of game that'll catch more than a few peeps off guard.
He isn't the most coordinated offensive player, but he'll eke out efficient possessions with his back to the basket and dish passes in stationary positions or while on the move. He doesn't have established three-point range. But you can envision him firing away from deep with regularity one day, and defenses already shouldn't be cheating off mid-range attempts.
He's not particularly explosive or overbearing, but he'll defend both the 4 and 5. Solid awareness in space and a ridiculous 7'4" wingspan help him survive on glorified wings; pinpoint timing makes up for gaps in physicality when he's bruising with 5s.
Gorgui Dieng just feels like the right pick here. Dieng is taller, and Motley will pilot way more surprise fast breaks than him. But they're both lanky worker bees who have more layers to their game than most tend to realize.
26. Bam Adebayo (Kentucky, C, Freshman): Ed Davis
Read this excerpt on Bam Adebayo from DraftExpress' Josh Riddell and try saying it doesn't double as an ode to Ed Davis:
"At this point, Adebayo's offensive game is unrefined, doing most of his damage around the basket, where he finished 66 percent of his attempts, according to Synergy Sports Technology. He has good hands and is very quick off of two feet, where he looks to dunk every shot possible. He lives off the shot creation of others, both from cuts to the rim or pick-and-roll dives, making him a strong paint presence when he is engaged and active. He didn't have a big sample of ball-screen possessions, but with his willingness to set solid screens and potential as a lob threat on rolls, these play types will definitely be a big part of his role in the NBA."
Adebayo's game mirrors that of Davis even more on the defensive end. A hair under 6'9" without shoes, he's undersized for the center position but long enough (7'2 ¾" wingspan) that it doesn't matter. And he's quick enough to chase around contemporary power forwards, something Davis has started to do more since joining the Portland Trail Blazers.
Though he's a pinch stronger than his NBA counterpart at 250 pounds, Adebayo will have to rely on positioning and pop more than power when crashing the glass. He's already an opportunist on the offensive side, but he can get lost in the fray on the defensive boards and must recover faster after perimeter contests to match Davis' presence off opponent misses.
25. Jordan Bell (Oregon, PF/C, Junior): Kenneth Faried
Jordan Bell gets the Kenneth Faried treatment because he wants it. He's worked for it. But he also aims to transcend it.
While he'll acknowledge he's crafted his game in the image of the Denver Nuggets' resident hustler, he's intent on taking his impact in a different direction.
"I think the need in the NBA right now is definitely defense," Bell said, per CSN Northwest's Jason Quick. "Everybody has pretty much been a scoring. I've been watching basketball, and getting to 100 was a big thing—now it's 120, 110. I figure there is definitely a need for defenders."
Take the rough defensive outline of Taj Gibson, merge it with the boundless vitality Faried runs and rebounds with and presto! You have Bell. And there's a chance he outstrips even this hybrid comparison.
Bell looks more comfortable putting the ball on the floor than either of his archetypes, and he splashed in 49.2 percent of his two-point jumpers as a junior, according to Hoop-Math.com. If he builds on those offensive attributes and his penchant for defensive daydreaming doesn't impede his capacity to switch across frontcourt slots, he'll be a thankless-task Jedi Master with an added dab of flashiness.
24. Isaiah Hartenstein (Germany, PF, 1998): Brook Lopez
This is an ambitious poster board for Isaiah Hartenstein. Brook Lopez is longer, has forgotten more about low-post and face-up scoring than Hartenstein will learn and blends finesse with an air of imposition that you probably can't teach.
At the same time, let's not pass up the opportunity to deploy the "A version of Brook Lopez that can defend in space and parlay his own length into more boards."
Hartenstein's defensive rebounding rate clocked in at over 28 percent this past season, and he has Greg Monroe-esque quick hands that he mixes with jittery foot speed. More physical players will beat him up in the early going, and his three-point shot isn't game-ready. But he should be able to stay on the floor long enough to flesh out the rest of his skill set.
23. OG Anunoby (Indiana, SF, Sophomore): Jerami Grant
Al-Farouq Aminu will be a popular spitting image for OG Anunoby. Stanley Johnson too. Andre Roberson will make some cameos as well.
Any wing with a fractured-to-busted jumper who plays with cross-position zip and brute will suffice.
Jerami Grant becomes the most appealing option because of length and force. Both he and Anunboy have wingspans north of 7'2" despite standing around 6'6" without shoes—shooting guards who will slide up to defend power forwards without getting strong-armed.
Right knee surgery could bilk Anunboy of some defensive vim, but the bet is he'll be fine. He's not yet 20 years old, and his late first-round stock remains intact.
Admirers will be more concerned with his jump shot. He went 13-of-29 from deep (44.8 percent) as a freshman but saw his efficiency plummet (31.1 percent) as a sophomore amid increased volume (14-of-45). Depending on where he lands, he may, like Grant, eschew three-pointers for on- and off-ball rim attacks while setting up teammates with the frequency of Johnson.
22. Derrick White (Colorado, SG, Senior): Gary Harris
Underrated setup man, particularly as the pick-and-roll initiator? Check.
Dangerous shooter? Check.
Subtle cutter? Check.
Unimpressive measurements (6'7 ½" wingspan) that should but somehow don't torpedo hope of his staying in front of enemy ball-handlers? Check.
Gary Harris, who remains the younger of these two players, is probably Derrick White's ceiling. And that's fine. White is a fundamentals guy who stands to carve out an impactful role because of his plug-and-play potential.
21. TJ Leaf (UCLA, PF, Freshman): Nemanja Bjelica
Getting compared to Nemanja Bjelica is not an insult to TJ Leaf's ceiling.
Bjelica seldom showcases his full bag of offensive tricks with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He's surrounded by too many ball-dominant talents, most of whom are higher in the pecking order.
But there is an untapped smoothness to Bjelica's game that Leaf mimed while playing beside Lonzo Ball. Leaf has no trouble getting up and down the floor—how could he if he was on the court at UCLA?—and the right team will view him as more than a spot-up specialist, as DraftExpress' Julian Applebome outlined:
"He is a shifty ball-handler who can grab and go off the defensive glass and ignite the fast break himself, or attack out of face-up situations with slight changes of pace and direction. He is more of a finesse finisher around the basket who relies on touch, footwork, and his ability to finish with both hands. He struggles finishing in traffic and often avoids contact around the rim as evidenced by his low free-throw-attempt rate of just 3.8 per-40."
As of now, Leaf is the one Bjelica should strive to be. But their pitfalls are the same. Neither is a spectacular rebounder, viable rim protector or wing-stopper. So, like Bjelica, Leaf is in danger of being constricted to a role that has more to do with stashing him on the defensive end than unleashing his full offensive arsenal.
20. Jarrett Allen (Texas, C, Freshman): Ian Mahinmi
Ian Mahinmi's career arc is a good one for Jarrett Allen to try emulating—minus the recent knee injuries, of course.
Like Allen, Mahinmi entered the league a little ropy, ferrying just 220 pounds on his 6'10" frame. He filled out his foundation in time, adding bulk that helped him barrel through and finish in traffic, without ever losing his hallmark bounce.
Playing within four-out lineups will help Allen contribute right away. He is a good screener, recognizes how to slip traps and shouldn't have to worry about manning the 4-spot in clumpy lineups, as he did at Texas.
His 10.5 rebounds and 1.9 block per 40 minutes are whatever for someone with a 7'5 ¼" wingspan and a nearly 9'2" standing reach, but he'll pad those totals with more time at the 5—a shift in position that should drive up his defensive stock and leverage his craftier-than-advertised post game.
19. Anzejs Pasecniks (Latvia, C, 1995): Donatas Motiejunas
Don't let the Latvian connection lead you to believe Anzejs Pasecniks is relatable to Kristaps Porzingis.
Parts of his offensive game might be. He flashed three-point range on a limited number of attempts, going 8-of-18 from beyond the rainbow this season, and he's confident enough in his handle to take defenders who are overplaying him off the dribble. But you cannot reasonably compare his defense to Porzingis' impact.
Donatas Motiejunas is the better role model—or rather, what Motiejunas was supposed to become by now.
Pasecniks is longer than Motiejunas, who sports a negative wingspan compared to his height, and he doesn't have as much experience creating his own shots or working out of the post. But he runs the floor with a similar gait, slinks off screens on identical angles and compensates for a lack of shot-blocking with intriguing pick-and-roll coverage.
"Pasecniks has also shown the mobility to be a good pick-and-roll defender," FanSided's Trevor Magnotti wrote. "He can cover a lot of ground quickly, moves fluidly and contains penetration acceptably for a guy his size. While his defensive instincts and awareness are continuing to develop, he definitely has the athletic tools to be a factor on the defensive end."
Truth be told, Pasecniks is what happens when a broke-man's Porzingis collides with Motiejunas' more wealthy relative. But he doesn't have the complete interchangeable package on defense, so his ceiling is closer to the latter.
18. Harry Giles (Duke, PF, Freshman): Bobby Portis
Turning into a springier Amir Johnson feels like Harry Giles' ideal scenario at this point—a quality rim-running big who strokes a few jumpers, disrupts the occasional pick-and-roll and only sometimes gets yanked from the action because of matchup issues.
Instead, his injury history has curtailed his ceiling. He has torn or partially torn his ACLs in both knees and needed arthroscopic surgery on his left one this past October. These setbacks have given way to a bit role. As Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman observed in January:
"His monster physical tools (6'11" size, 7'3" wingspan) and athleticism have always powered his production and upside. But at this stage of his development, he isn't polished enough to play anything more than a secondary or energizer role in this particular offense.
So far, he's spent most of his minutes running the baseline or getting looked off by his guards at the elbows. Duke can get better looks than contested Giles jump hooks, the only shot he comfortably creates for himself."
Bobby Portis' trajectory should appeal to Giles. Portis doesn't yet get big minutes with the Chicago Bulls, but he's been empowered to launch from long range and gets by for protracted stretches with his athleticism. If either player cuts down on his mental lapses and ball-handling miscues, he'll be ready to build upon small-burst contributions.
17. Ike Anigbogu (UCLA, C, Freshman): DeAndre Jordan
Ike Anigbogu's massive 7'6 ¼" wingspan invites this DeAndre Jordan nod. He stands under 6'9" without shoes, so he's a tad short for the 5. But Jordan was under 6'10" in socks when making the NBA jump. That's not a demonstrative difference.
Both bigs leverage their length into showy blocks. Anigbogu racked up 3.7 swats per 40 minutes at UCLA, which is more than Jordan sent back during his lone year with Texas A&M. They've also both shown their defensive intensity can withstand the rigors of playing in fast-paced systems.
Anigbogu has to stay in a specific offensive lane. He is an expert at moving off the ball and darting toward the rim, but he isn't a usable back-to-the-basket option and doesn't pass the ball quick enough when finishing at the rim isn't in the cards—strengths and weaknesses Jordan suffers from to varying degrees.
The challenge for Anigbogu will be headlining an above-average defense at the NBA level. He didn't play a ton of minutes at UCLA—only 13 per game—and it took Jordan more than half his career before averaging more than 30.
16. John Collins (Wake Forest, PF, Sophomore): Trevor Booker
On the one hand, the Wake Forest sophomore doesn't bring an extensive armory to the NBA. He busts his butt on the glass, corrals loose balls and devastates defenses jetting out of the pick-and-roll.
On the other hand, Collins scores too much—28.8 points per 40 minutes as a sophomore—to be placed alongside specialist bigs. There are traces of face-up sets sprinkled throughout his offensive cubby. More than 40 percent of his shots came as two-point jumpers, and he'll start dribbling up the floor after grabbing defensive rebounds before deferring to a guard.
Booker now has the green light from three, and the Brooklyn Nets encourage him to dribble end-to-end off rebounds. Collins may never do any of those things, but a higher-octane interpretation of Brooklyn's Booker is a worthy benchmark.
15. Luke Kennard (Duke, SG, Sophomore): Wesley Matthews
Picking an NBA role model for Luke Kennard begins with a question: Where can we find a lethal shooting wing with so-so length who is much more than just a lethal-shooting wing with so-so length?
The Ringer's NBA draft gurus have Wesley Matthews listed as one of Kennard's best-case scenarios, and after a tiresome search in the name of variety, it's become apparent there is no better idealistic paragon.
No one is questioning Kennard's work ethic on either end of the floor. He is more than a catch-and-shoot sniper on offense; he can run a functional pick-and-roll and will somersault through an inches-thick brick wall if it means getting in position for an open shot. His defense isn't good, but he tries, often displaying the engaged urgency of a hectic Kyle Korver.
Side-to-side mobility is cited as Kennard's most damning pitfall. It was the same story with Matthews. Lateral quickness was his primary drawback. But he turned out just fine on defense, and Kennard could too. Studying defensive film on both Matthews and Joe Ingles would be a good place to start.
14. Zach Collins (Gonzaga, C, Freshman): Myles Turner
Yes, Myles Turner has more derring-do snap to his repertoire than Zach Collins. But the Gonzaga skyscraper is a worthy copycat.
Collins has more hop and walls off the rim better than any of the many, many stretch bigs in this draft class. He can be foul-prone—6.2 personals per 40 minutes—but he has the slanted strides to rotate from ball-handlers to cutting bigs and can end drives to the basket from behind the play.
Better passes and a little more face-up polish will be integral to ensuring he remains a true mismatch on the offensive end—teachable things. Turner has significantly improved his shot creation and playmaking through two seasons. Collins can carve out a similar path.
Plus, their per-minute production as freshmen is too darn similar to ignore:
Brace yourselves: Collins may be the first big yanked off the board Thursday.
13. Justin Patton (Creighton, C, Freshman): Kristaps Porzingis
Same-breath Karl-Anthony Towns mentions are growing in popularity when projecting Justin Patton. And there are some similarities, most notably in how much force they expend when finishing off the catch at the rim.
But Patton may never replicate the inherent physicality with which Towns or even Joel Embiid plays. He has a scrawnier frame and doesn't fare nearly as well as on the glass—exactly like Kristaps Porzingis.
Watch enough tape of Patton, and you start to see striking resemblances. Porzingis is taller and longer—Patton is 6'10" without shoes—but their likeness in frames matters more. Patton doesn't jack nearly as many threes, but he too can fall in love with off-the-dribble jumpers that rely on his line of sight over defenders.
Perfect? Not at all. Porzingis is the more established perimeter threat, and Patton's free-throw percentage (51.7) doesn't lend hope to his cloning the Latvian unicorn's efficiency amid volume.
12. Donovan Mitchell (Louisville, SG, Sophomore): Norman Powell
What do you get when you roll P.J. Tucker's doggedness and a young Thabo Sefolosha's pluck and streaky shooting into one smaller-sized package?
A more established Norman Powell.
So, Donovan Mitchell.
Measure Mitchell without shoes, and he barely cracks 6'1". And yet, he's still able to play above the rim, dunking off downhill assaults or finishing lobs. He's also the kind of defender against whom opposing scorers hate playing. He gets in your grill and won't shy from flinging himself between the bucket and dribble-drivers as a miniature makeshift rim protector.
If his 35.4 percent three-point clip on 6.6 attempts per game as a sophomore immediately translates to the NBA, this "more-seasoned Powell" descriptor could wind up selling him short.
11. Lauri Markkanen (Arizona, PF, Freshman): Ryan Anderson
Rolling with the Ryan Anderson comp for Lauri Markkanen is imperfect. He's more like the "Ryan Anderson of Kevin Loves."
Markkanen's shooting prowess is for real. He nailed 42.3 percent of his threes at Arizona on 163 attempts and is cash-money as a pick-and-pop sniper. He can attack the rim when locked in, but he's equally, if not more, fatal when he stops on a dime and lets it fly.
The Anderson rubric fits when you look at Markkanen's playmaking and defense. Except, the passing gripes are a tad unfair. His 1.1 assists per 40 minutes don't do justice to his vision. He's raw as a facilitator, but the decision-making off the bounce is there frequently enough to see a clear path toward progression.
Defensively, though? Not so much. As FanSided contributor Cole Zwicker explained:
"Markkanen lacks the plus change of direction and quick-twitch athleticism that fellow European big man Dragan Bender is known for, disassociating him from that comparison as well. His defense in space and on switches especially is the most important facet of Markkanen’s defensive game to monitor moving forward, as it’s his only real avenue to carving out a semblance of defensive value."
Pair these random showcases in space with more aggressive rebounding and consistent dime-dropping, and Markkanen will be closer to Love than Anderson. For now, his sharpshooting will carry him, tilting the scales firmly toward Anderson's side of the spectrum.
10. Justin Jackson (North Carolina, SF, Junior): Tony Snell
"Tony Snell? Dubya. Tee. Eff. Tony Snell is trash!"
If this is your initial reaction, you're not watching enough of Tony Snell. He is a workaholic on the defensive end and has chiseled out a niche for himself as a complementary shooter. He drained 40.6 percent of his three-pointers this past season, with almost two-thirds of his shot attempts coming as catch-and-shoot deepies.
Ironing out a role similar to Snell's is perfect for Justin Jackson. He'd make more sense as a taller Kentavious Caldwell-Pope if he ups his comfort level as an isolation scorer and pick-and-roll pilot, but three years at North Carolina didn't do the trick on that front.
Picturing him as a three-and-D standout even takes some imagination. He converted less than 30 percent of his deep balls through his freshman and sophomore seasons before posting a 37 percent success rate on 284 attempts as a junior.
Maybe, just maybe, last season's shooting display is Jackson's new normal. Snell didn't find his defensive groove until he relocated from Chicago to Milwaukee. Improved shot mechanics could be Jackson's way of finding his offensive alcove.
9. Malik Monk (Kentucky, SG, Freshman): Zach LaVine
Malik Monk doesn't have as much bounce as pre-ACL-injury Zach Lavine. (Who does?) Other than that, these two are near carbon copies on the offensive end.
Both are on the smaller side for 2-guards, yet neither has shown he can direct an offense as the lead distributor. And LaVine is more likely to take that step as a playmaker. Monk was never tasked with shouldering that load at Kentucky. His next team will be fortunate if he learns the playmaking ropes at a contract-year Tim Hardaway Jr. pace.
Just as LaVine has struggled to incite much confidence in his defensive reads, Monk will not begin his NBA career as a plus or zero-sum stopper. He's about 6'2" without shoes, so he'll be giving up inches almost every night. And his otherworldly athleticism hasn't resulted in measurable improvement. He shoots gaps in the blink of an eye but doesn't backpedal or sidestep quickly enough when ball-handlers counter his pressure.
None of which will prevent Monk from falling outside the top 10—or even the top seven. Lottery squads are rarely ever in position to pass over a 39.7 percent three-point shooter with moon-boot hops and an enticing free-throw rate (32.3).
8. Dennis Smith Jr. (North Carolina State, PG, Freshman): Eric Bledsoe
Dennis Smith Jr. is living, breathing, high-rising proof that ACL tears don't always swindle athletic deities of their extraterrestrial explosiveness. The injury caused him to miss his senior season in high school, but then he came out the other side at North Carolina State, taking off like a helicopter.
Few, if any, defenders can keep pace with his first step. His drives to the basket are particularly menacing because he's content to toss off-balance and mid-air passes.
In due time, he might be the best defensive product of this year's point guard crop. His ball pressure is serious stuff, and when he's engaged, it seems like he can teleport through screens on command.
What he's yet to show on the defensive end, he's made up for as an off-action option. Teammates can find him for running lobs atypical of a point guard, and nearly half of his three-point makes came off assists, according to Hoop-Math.
Oh, and just so we're clear: This blurb was about Dennis Smith Jr., not Eric Bledsoe. Any potential confusion is understandable, and you are forgiven.
7. Frank Ntilikina (France, PG/SG, 1998): Avery Bradley
A long tweener guard from overseas who's a rough-around-the-edges playmaker? Dante Exum has to be the comparison.
Frank Ntilikina has more in common with Avery Bradley than Exum. The Frenchman is taller and longer, but he'll join the NBA ranks fulfilling a similar purpose.
Ntilikina isn't an official point guard, even though he's listed as one. He spends a lot of time playing off the rock, which means we can't fault him for his modest assist numbers but also cannot ticket him for instant floor-general duty.
Bradley began his Boston Celtics tenure in a pickle. He's since settled in as a situational attacker, emergency playmaker and dead-eye catch-and-fire assassin. Ntilikina can be a better version of this player if everything goes right. He shot 43.1 percent from deep on 51 attempts for Strasbourg in 2016-17 and should be able to stack up defensively with everyone from point guards to small forwards.
6. Jayson Tatum (Duke, SF, Freshman): Harrison Barnes
Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman pegged Jayson Tatum as a Harrison-Barnes-in-training at the end of November, and there's no reason to deviate from his forecast now:
He also operates from similar spots on the floor, particularly in the mid-range, which has become Barnes' office. The Mavs' new forward takes 31.2 percent of his attempts in the 16-to-30-foot range, where he shoots 48.6 percent, per Sports-Reference.com.
An advanced one-on-one shot creator, Tatum can get himself two-point jumpers by pulling up, stepping back or jabbing at the defender. His shooting stroke is smooth inside the arc and capable behind it. But like Barnes, his shot selection includes a heavy dose of tough jumpers. And neither is a big passer or playmaker.
Barnes and Tatum are close to identical in size and length. Barnes has more girth to him, but Tatum is more nimble and an inappreciably better athlete. He, like Barnes, will see time guarding both forward spots—not as a lockdown gnat, but as someone whose team is looking to get smaller and more versatile without incurring a defensive implosion.
Improve as a secondary facilitator while turning his velvety amble into more effective switching on defense, and Tatum might just leave this comparison in the rear view.
5. De'Aaron Fox (Kentucky, PG, Freshman): John Wall
Did you know it's illegal to compare De'Aaron Fox to someone other than John Wall?
Wall and Fox are both bigger guards, at 6'4", and wicked fast with the ball in their hands. Fox's 6'6" wingspan doesn't stand up to Wall's 6'9" measurement, but he'll still get run, by design, versus opposing 2s. Even their biggest red flag—jump shooting—is in sync.
The main difference: Fox feels like less of a sure thing. Wall was further along as an orchestrator when he left Kentucky and, unlike Fox, managed to clear 30 percent shooting from distance. Knowing Wall has become what he has, the stakes for Fox are higher, as Sharp deftly laid out:
"Think of it as the difference between John Wall and Elfrid Payton. If he's Wall, his jump shot will improve just enough to make him completely unstoppable. That version of Fox can go a long way toward reinventing the identity of a team that's currently hopeless enough to be picking in the top five. Or, if he's Payton, his jump shot will never quite get there, and a team could lose five years waiting to see if he can turn the corner."
There were times this season when Fox's shaky jumper looked like the only hurdle separating him from Wall's unique alchemy of speed, precision and explosion. And Fox told Sharp he's now comfortable from behind the NBA's arc—enough to let these comparisons live on with accuracy.
4. Jonathan Isaac (Florida State, SF/PF, Freshman): Patrick Patterson
When versatility meets realism, you end up with Patrick Patterson—one of the most underappreciated do-gooders in the game.
Some will gravitate toward more star-studded comps, be they Paul George or a veteran Brandon Ingram. But a souped-up Patterson feels right. Isaac contributes in more areas than even the most high-profile combo wings, but he's more well-rounded than prolific.
"At the age of 19, he has shown the ability to defend multiple positions, shoot the ball, put it on the floor, create for himself and others, rebound, and protect the rim," The Ringer's Jonathan Tjarks wrote. "His skill set would allow him to fit on almost any team in the lottery, and a player with his combination of size, shooting ability and athleticism makes for a useful NBA player, even if he never develops any further."
Isaac's three-point shooting fluctuated as his freshman campaign wore on, settling at a respectable but not great 34.8 percent. His clip at the rim was solid (69.8 percent), according to Hoop-Math, but his 41 percent knockdown rate on two-point jumpers is a microcosm of his offensive inconsistencies.
Will he add more playmaking to his game? Direct fast breaks? Bang in more threes off the catch?
Billed as a combo forward, Isaac's standing reach of 9'0 ½" should eventually have him slotted as a 4-5—an everything defender up front like Patterson who periodically attacks off the dribble but feasts on catch-and-launch jumpers.
3. Josh Jackson (Kansas, SF, Freshman): A Jacked-Up Khris Middleton
If your favorite team came away with a jacked-up Khris Middleton after burning through a top-three pick, would you be happy?
You should be.
Middleton does everything you want in a wing. He defends shooting guards, small forwards and power forwards. He sinks threes at uber-efficient clips. He has the first step to collapse defenses and the handles to escape traffic. He is one of the most undervalued passers in the league.
Put him in a higher-usage role, and Middleton gets recognized as a star. Just one other player since 2014-15 is clearing 24 points, five assists, two steals and two three-point makes per 100 possessions while matching his three-point efficiency: Stephen Curry.
Josh Jackson has the tools to be a livelier version of Middleton. His edge in size already makes him a better shot-blocker and rebounder, and he's proved to be a serviceable distributor. His outside shooting acumen remains a question mark, but he put down 37.8 percent of his 90 three-point attempts at Kansas.
Bearing the weight of an entire offense doesn't profile as one of Jackson's strengths. He struggles to conjure something out of nothing. Comparing him to superstar wings like Jimmy Butler and Paul George is too generous right now, but the Andrew Wiggins tie-ins undersell his defensive and playmaking potential.
A more potent Middleton is, well, a happy middle ground.
2. Lonzo Ball (UCLA, PG, Freshman): Manu Ginobili, Unleashed
Full disclosure: I hate every Lonzo Ball comparison.
Jason Kidd isn't eligible since he's retired, but Ball's defensive peak will probably never sniff his, so it's invalid in general. Russell Westbrook comps are proof that alma mater links are a predraft rite of passage.
And Ricky Rubio, but with a jump shot? Nah. We might as well just use "Michael Carter-Williams, but good at basketball" for every star point guard prospect.
Throwing out Manu Ginobili doesn't even make yours truly feel great, but it fits pretty well. There is a fluid recklessness to each of their games, and at the height of their powers, they seem to make everyone around them better.
Other players cannot get away with Ball's shot and passing selection, just like Ginobili. Ball has better command of the floor, so a Ginobili-Chris Paul amalgam is almost perfect. Still, the more highlights you watch, the better this relationship looks.
Plop prime Ginobili outside San Antonio, somewhere he can be the lead guard without playing inside the constructs of a specific, albeit amazing, offensive system, and you can see it—an unleashed 6'6" maestro of mayhem Ball should aspire to be.
1. Markelle Fultz (Washington, PG/SG, Freshman): James Harden
Putting Markelle Fultz under the James Harden umbrella isn't original. It just makes too much sense—particularly because the 6'5" guard played out 2016-17 as the Houston Rockets' point guard.
Plenty of people will be drawn to more in-your-face floor generals when evaluating Fultz. But there is more subtlety to his game—split-second hesitations and sleights of hand that send the defense into a state of chaos.
Dwyane Wade is an apt comparison when looking at on-ball tactics, but Fultz is by far the better shooter. And that's where Harden comes in. They're more capable three-point marksmen yet leave much to be desired in the same off-ball departments.
"Fultz still has some strides to make as a spot-up shooter, as his release is a bit slow, evident by the fact that 81.7 percent of his catch-and-shoot jumpers were of the guarded variety," Draft Express' Mike Schmitz wrote. "In terms of the speed of his release and his setup, he compares somewhat similarly to Harden off the catch."
Fultz should put significant distance between himself and Harden on the defensive end. He checked out for possessions at a time while repping Washington, but he stuck in front of eruptive drives and made some nice off-ball contests when his two-way switch was flipped.
Playing in games that matter should culminate in more defensive continuity. Or they could expose Fultz as the fringe sieve some perceive him to be. But even if he's no better on defense than he showed in college, he'll still have the offensive gadgets and gizmos to rival Harden's stature.