Bust Potential for Each Top Rookie from 2017 NBA Draft Class

Jonathan WassermanNBA Lead WriterAugust 16, 2017

Bust Potential for Each Top Rookie from 2017 NBA Draft Class

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    Nobody is ever a lock in the NBA draft.

    Each rookie will face specific challenges they aren't guaranteed to conquer. Athletic limitations, decision-making and poor shooting are popular reasons why prospects struggle to maximize their potential or meet the expectations set by the spot on the board they were selected. 

    We addressed potential hurdles for the Top 10 picks and determined their odds of becoming stars, high-end starters or role players. In terms of defining a bust, the bar is obviously set higher for the Top Five picks compared to prospects taken Nos. 6-10. 

    Markelle Fultz, the No. 1 pick, should be considered a bust if he becomes a high-end starter, whereas Zach Collins becoming a high-end starter would justify No. 10 overall value.

Markelle Fultz (Philadelphia 76ers, PG/SG)

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    Risk factors: Questionable competitiveness, empty production 

    The James Harden comparisons are out there for Markelle Fultz, another lead, scoring playmaker. The Philadelphia 76ers clearly bought into his ceiling. 

    But a high floor was also a selling point. With size, length, athleticism and spectacular skills, there doesn't appear to be much risk.

    Fultz jumps out as a lock to produce—the questions are whether the stats wind up translating to wins, and will they come at a cost?

    Can he carry his team throughout stretches of a game? Will he be overly casual, float or drift during a lengthy 82-game season? Fultz's intensity wasn't always the highest in college. 

    Having won just nine games at Washington and failed to reach the NCAA tournament, he hasn't had recent experience playing in spotlight, high-stakes games.

    It wouldn't be shocking to see him average 20 points and five assists by his second year in the league. But numbers alone won't guarantee Fultz emerges as the top player from the class. We'll give it a 25 percent chance that Lonzo Ball becomes the more valuable pro. 

    Chances Fultz becomes a star: High

    High-end starter (bust): Medium

    Role player: Low

Lonzo Ball (Los Angeles Lakers, PG)

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    Risk factors: Lack of explosiveness, scoring limitations

    Lonzo Ball's brain is his most valuable tool. But can it carry him to stardom without either explosive athleticism or versatile scoring ability?

    His 16.6 points per 40 minutes in college were notably lower than Markelle Fultz's (26.0), De'Aaron Fox's (22.6) or Dennis Smith Jr.'s (20.8). We haven't seen much of a mid-range game with the floater or pull-up inside the arc. All but 12 of his made field goals at UCLA came either at the rim or from three.

    Ball isn't going to score like Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbook, Stephen Curry, John Wall or any of the other All-Star point guards in the league. He doesn't share the skill set or blow-by burst that translates to easy buckets and free throws.

    Can he pass and shoot his way to All-Star appearances and wins the way Jason Kidd did? Or does he fall into the Ricky Rubio category of solid starter and high-end role player, but not franchise player.

    And at No. 2 overall, that's what the Los Angeles Lakers are banking on.

    Chances Ball becomes a star: High

    High-end starter (bust): Medium

    Role player: Low

Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics, SF/PF)

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    Risk factors: Shot selection

    Jayson Tatum's greatest strength also creates risk. 

    Arguably the draft's most advanced isolation scorer, Tatum takes a lot of difficult shots, many of them low-percentage, two-point jumpers. And given his nifty shot-creation moves, he also needs time to make them, which can stop ball movement and lead to the other four teammates standing around and watching. 

    Though he's capable of hitting every shot in the book, between all the contested step-backs, fallaways and turnarounds, Tatum's margin for error is small. And he hasn't proved himself as a plus playmaker or consistent defender, reducing his margin for error as a scorer even further.

    At 6'8" with enough fluidity, he's too skilled to bust. Tatum is going to put up points in whatever role he's given. Inefficiency will be the only thing stopping him from justifying No. 3 overall value.

    Chances Tatum becomes a star: Medium

    High-end starter: High

    Role player (bust): Low

Josh Jackson (Phoenix Suns, SF)

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    Risk factors: Shooting

    Explosiveness, competitiveness and the likelihood Josh Jackson emerges as a plus defender combine to create a high floor. He is low-risk—a versatile wing who covers ground with transition offense, scoring spurts, secondary playmaking and the ability to guard multiple positions.

    But Jackson, a perimeter player, will have a tough time earning All-Star votes without a reliable jumper. 

    His mechanics, which have a lot of moving parts, aren't convincing. Jackson's 56.6 percent free-throw mark at Kansas was red-flag low. He shot 20.0 percent off the dribble in the mid-range last year, per Synergy (h/t DraftExpress' Mike Schmitz). And the NBA arc looked out of his range at summer league (3-of-16). 

    He's a surefire role player who'll slash, pass and compete his way to regular minutes, even if his shooting never improves. But he won't be a max player unless it does. 

    Chances Jackson becomes a star: Medium

    High-end starter: High

    Role player (bust): Low

De'Aaron Fox (Sacramento Kings, PG)

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    Risk factors: Shooting

    The Sacramento Kings weighed the risk of De'Aaron Fox's jumper staying below average versus the potential reward that's tied to it improving. 

    Fox isn't becoming an All-Star point guard unless he raises his 24.6 percent three-point mark dramatically. Not raising it at all becomes problematic from a bust standpoint, but looking at his stroke and ability to make jumpers when in the zone, it seems likely he can take his shooting to an average level.

    Dennis Schroder's trajectory, from 23.8 percent on threes as a rookie to 34.0 percent as a fourth-year pro, sounds like a reasonable projection for Fox. Even if that's a best-case scenario, Fox's ability to apply pressure, both as a driver and defender, should still hold NBA value. 

    At worst, he's a two-way starting role player or sixth-man spark. Whether that's considered a bust comes down to individual predraft expectations and how well picks No. 6 and above perform.

    Chances Fox becomes a star: Medium

    High-end starter: High

    Role player (bust): Low

Jonathan Isaac (Orlando Magic, SF/PF)

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    Risk factors: No signature skill, body

    Jonathan Isaac's bust potential remains tied to the fact that he's not a lock to be great in any one area. 

    He averaged eight field-goal attempts per game at Florida State and rarely put on his shot-hunter hat to showcase his ability to create. Off the ball, despite his sound shot preparation and mechanics, his 34.8 percent three-point clip on 89 attempts wasn't assuring. 

    Isaac won't offer much playmaking, either, having totaled 37 assists in 839 total minutes last season. 

    And though he's a tall, long and fluid forward at 6'10", his skinny frame is difficult to ignore. 

    Isaac's defensive versatility powers his floor above ground level. His shot-blocking and switching in pick-and-roll coverage will earn him minutes, regardless of how his offense develops.

    Worst case, Isaac establishes his value as a defensive asset and complementary third or fourth option on the floor. 

    Chances Isaac becomes a star: Low

    High-end starter: High

    Role player (bust): Medium

Lauri Markkanen (Chicago Bulls, PF)

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    Risk factors: Lack of all-around versatility, lack of explosiveness/toughness 

    Nobody doubts Lauri Markkanen's shooting stroke, which should earn him minutes for the next decade.

    But he was a key piece for the Chicago Bulls in the trade that sent Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Chicago is clearly expecting more than just a shot-making specialist.

    However, suspect explosion and toughness were evident and led to his struggling in areas outside of shooting at Arizona. Markkanen put up poor rebounding (9.3 per 40 minutes) and scary defensive numbers (0.5 steals, 0.7 blocks per 40 minutes) as a 7-footer in college.

    And though highly skilled offensively, he totaled just 32 assists in 37 games while averaging 30.8 minutes.

    If Markkanen winds up being a below-average defender, rebounder and passer, to justify the value Chicago predicted, he'll need to become a consistent scoring weapon. And without great blow-by speed or a strong low-post game, he isn't a lock to blow up offensively.

    The chances Markkanen will fail to meet No. 7 overall value appear higher than the odds he'll outperform his draft position.

    Chances Markkanen becomes a star: Low

    High-end starter: Medium

    Role player (bust): High

Frank Ntilikina (New York Knicks, PG/SG)

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    Risk factors: Lack of shot-creating skills, lack of explosiveness

    Size, enormous length and good shooting percentages hint at a high floor for Frank Ntilikina. 

    He'll have the chance to establish himself as the top guard defender in the draft, capable of guarding three perimeter positions and locking down opposing ball-handlers. As long as he develops defensively and continues to shoot around 38.0 percent from deep (45 LNB Pro A games), the New York Knicks will have a three-and-D role player.

    But they also passed on Dennis Smith Jr., Malik Monk and Donovan Mitchell. By doing so, they've set the bar higher for Ntilikina.

    However, he isn't a dangerous shot-creator or blow-by driver, problematic weaknesses for a guard. 

    Will he be able to score or playmake against NBA defenses? Ntilikina often played off the ball for Strasbourg IG in France, where he averaged 12.0 points and 3.5 assists per 40 minutes between Pro A, Basketball Champions League and French Leaders Cup.

    Chances Ntilikina becomes a star: Low

    High-end starter: Medium

    Role player: High

Dennis Smith Jr. (Dallas Mavericks, PG)

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    Risk factors: Style of play, inconsistency, leadership

    The Dallas Mavericks found their next point guard in Dennis Smith Jr., whose athleticism, scoring and passing skills are clearly starter-caliber. 

    But will his presence help them rise up the standings? He was inconsistent at North Carolina State, where he missed the NCAA tournament and scouts questioned his leadership, motor and drive. 

    Smith plays a ball-dominant style that can result in hero shots or quick ones early in the clock. He showed a tendency to either disconnect or make questionable decisions within the flow of a game. Not letting bad calls or missed shots from teammates affect his mood and choices will be key.

    Smith's floor is Reggie Jackson-level starter, which features production over efficiency and wins.

    Chances Smith becomes a star: Medium

    High-end starter: High

    Role player: Low

Zach Collins (Portland Trail Blazers, C)

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    Risk factors: Lack of length/athleticism, no signature skill

    Zach Collins showed signs of potential across the board, from the low post and mid-range to the defensive paint. But we only saw flashes in 17.3 minutes per game against mostly mid-major opponents. 

    At this stage, Collins has basic back-to-the-basket moves, but isn't an advanced shot-creator, threat to face up and score or a proven shooter. And despite the strong shot-blocking rate, he averaged 6.2 fouls per 40 minutes and lacks encouraging strength or length for a center who can't switch to power forward.

    Size, agility, soft hands and light feet should keep Collins locked into a backup role if he doesn't emerge as a consistent scoring option or impact interior defender. The Portland Trail Blazers would just look bad for trading up and passing on Malik Monk, Luke Kennard and Donovan Mitchell.

    Chances Collins becomes a star: Low

    High-end starter: Medium

    Role player: High