Scouts Rank Ben Simmons, Kris Dunn, Buddy Hield as Most NBA-Ready Prospects

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterJanuary 19, 2016

GAINESVILLE, FL - JANUARY 09: Ben Simmons #25 of the LSU Tigers in action during the game against the Florida Gators at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center on January 9, 2016 in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
Rob Foldy/Getty Images

NBA teams typically draft based on long-term potential, but there is tremendous value tied to players who contribute on rookie contracts. 

Only a few rookies enter the league capable of making positive contributions right away. Just five are averaging double figures in scoring this year, and two of them—Emmanuel Mudiay and D'Angelo Russell—have player efficiency rating below 13, per ESPN. Russell's PER ranks 199 in the league, while Mudiay's ranks 322 of 334. Kristaps Porzingis and Karl-Anthony Towns have PERs over 18. 

Up-to-speed physical tools and athleticism play a major role in NBA-readiness. Specific skills like shooting and passing are also key factors, while substantial NCAA production helps improve a player's case.

We asked eight NBA scouts a simple question: Which three current college players are the most pro-ready prospects? In other words, which current college players will make the biggest impacts in their first year as pros in 2016-17? 

We only included the top five vote recipients. Kentucky's Jamal Murray, Marquette's Henry Ellenson and California's Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb didn't make the cut after receiving just one vote each. 

Note: There was a tie between prospects No. 5 and No. 4, as well as No. 3 and No. 2. I voted to break those ties. 

5. Jakob Poeltl (Utah, C, Sophomore)

Jan 3, 2016; Berkeley, CA, USA; Utah Utes forward Jakob Poeltl (42) dunks the ball against California Golden Bears forward Ivan Rabb (1) during the second half at Haas Pavilion. California defeated Utah 71-58. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Spor
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Two scouts had Jakob Poeltl top three on their most NBA-ready lists. "Bigs transition easier than guards usually," one scout told Bleacher Report. "Point guards especially have a tough time early. It's a smaller world to live in. [Ben] Simmons, Poeltl and [Buddy] Hield would be my guess for guys having the easiest transition. They all do things efficiently that will translate well."

Poeltl probably wouldn't have received any votes this time last year, when he was primarily known for just his physical tools, mobility and interior instincts. But his ball skills have come a long way, and he's raised his scoring average to 24.1 points per 40 minutes from just 15.7 last season. His assist rate is even up to 15.4 percent (from 6.6 percent), highlighting his improved awareness and passing, particularly out of the post. 

Still, in terms of what should transfer quickest, bank on Poeltl's rebounding, rim protection and finishing ability. At 7'0", 235 pounds, he has the body to bang for boards (18.9 percent rebounding percentage) and defend the post right away. Above-average athleticism and soft hands should also translate to easy buckets, whether they're off dump-downs from penetrating guards, pick-and-rolls or putbacks on the offensive glass. He's shooting 64.3 percent from the floor this year after 68.4 percent as a freshman.  

Coaches aren't likely to call many offensive plays for Poeltl as a rookie, but in a role where he can play to his strengths, he should be capable of cleaning up, finishing, defending and running the floor.

4. Brandon Ingram (Duke, SF, Freshman)

Jan 9, 2016; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils guard Brandon Ingram (14) reacts after hitting a three point shot in their game against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports
Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

The idea that Brandon Ingram has become the country's second-best prospect is gaining traction. And despite having turned just 18 years old in September, some scouts already believe he'll be ready to contribute next year.

"Based on where he gets drafted, Ingram will play right away and have an impact," one scout told Bleacher Report. 

With three prospects dominating the NBA-ready conversation, Ingram still received more votes than Kentucky's Jamal Murray, California's Jaylen Brown and Croatia's Dragan Bender.

Ingram is still awfully skinny, and chances are his field-goal percentage suffers during his early years as a pro. But his 6'9" size and world-class 7'3" wingspan should present an immediate challenge to NBA wings. Few small forwards can match up with those measurements.

Ingram shouldn't have much trouble getting his shot off around the perimeter, where he's currently making 2.1 threes per game and 40.7 percent of his attempts. He'll likely struggle to finish through contact around the basket, but his shooting stroke and athleticism will help get easy buckets in season No. 1. 

Like most rookies, I'd imagine Ingram's efficiency and defense won't look as pretty as his overall offensive delivery. But he should have something to offer in the form of shot-making and attacking right off the bat.

3. Buddy Hield (Oklahoma, SG, Senior)

Jan 16, 2016; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners guard Buddy Hield (24) shoots the ball in front of West Virginia Mountaineers guard Tarik Phillip (12) during the second half at Lloyd Noble Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Buddy Hield's emergence as arguably the top player in college hoops has caught the attention of NBA scouts. Four of the eight I spoke with had Hield listed on their three most NBA-ready lists. 

One scout referred to him as "Devin Booker-ish" in terms of his game and what he can add right away. 

Hield is on pace to have the best individual shooting season of any NCAA player since 1995, per Sports-Reference.com (minimum two games). Nobody has finished a year averaging 3.9 threes made per game on at least 50 percent from deep and 90 percent from the line.

And with better playmakers to set him up and more space to work with in the pros, there is no reason why Hield's jumper and perimeter game can't translate during his first year on the job. 

While he clearly has the range to stretch the floor off the ball, a quarter (25.4 percent, per Hoop-Math.com) of Hield's threes have been unassisted. He's comfortable shooting off the bounce, both in transition and over ball screens. Meanwhile, his glowing confidence and ability to make contested shots bodes well for his jump to the NBA. 

And though Hield won't score 26 points a game like he currently is at Oklahoma, he should be more than capable of capitalizing opportunistically on open lanes (63 percent at the rim) and fast-break opportunities (29 layups or dunks within first 10 seconds of shot clock through 16 games). 

At 22 years old with a solid 214-pound frame, the inch or two he lacks in height (6'4") shouldn't prevent Hield from knocking down shots or picking up easy open-floor buckets. In a role that asks him to play to his strengths as a shooter off screens, spot-ups and transition opportunities, Hield should have something to offer. 

2. Kris Dunn (Providence, PG, Sophomore)

Jan 16, 2016; Providence, RI, USA; Providence Friars guard Kris Dunn (3) drives to the hoop against Seton Hall Pirates guard Isaiah Whitehead (15) during the first half at Dunkin Donuts Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Kris Dunn certainly looks the part of a pro point guard with 6'4", 205-pound size and blazing quickness.

He isn't as explosive as John Wall, but Dunn's strength, length (6'9") and foot speed is in Wall's neighborhood.

He'll pose major problems for opposing ball-handlers and offenses from the start. Dunn ranks second in the country in both steals per game and steal percentage. He causes chaos with exceptional lateral movement, a giant wingspan, active hands and smart instincts. 

Dunn's ability to set the table and find the rack should carry right over. He's crafty off the dribble and lightning turning the corner. And he's terrific in ball-screen situations, both as a scorer and distributor.

Dunn's ability to create for teammates figures to be his most compelling asset. He ranks second in the country in assist percentage after finishing first in 2014-15. If he struggles as a shooter and finisher, expect Dunn to lead rookies in assists. A tight handle and ability to change speed and direction on a dime leads to easy penetration, drive-and-kicks and wide-open pick-and-roll looks.

The NBA's up-and-down pace should also suit Dunn's game, given his speed, burst and open-floor vision.

He's going to turn the ball over and struggle around the perimeter, but Dunn appears ready to hold his own and produce next year as a starter, mixed with inefficiency.  

1. Ben Simmons (LSU, Freshman, SF/PF)

Jan 16, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers forward Ben Simmons (25) shoots over Arkansas Razorbacks forward Moses Kingsley (33) during the second half of a game at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. LSU defeated Arkansas 76-74. Mandatory Credit: Deric
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Every scout I spoke with had Ben Simmons atop his NBA-ready list.

Simmons is the likeliest top overall pick, regardless of who gets it. His long-term and immediate potential are obvious. His blend of size and athleticism, passing and basketball IQ should work from Day 1. 

He measured 6'10", 240 pounds during LSU's combine—numbers on par with today's NBA power forwards. The difference is he's actually quicker than most NBA 4s. Simmons will pose problems for bigs in face-up situations, where he can attack off the dribble and blow by with the right or left hand. 

His ability to handle the ball should also result in easy buckets right away off coast-to-coast takes. He turns defensive boards into layups and open threes for teammates before the defense can set. Simmons already has 46 two-point field goals and 32 assists in transition, per Hoop-Math.com—monster numbers for any player, never mind one his size. 

But with strong shoulders, phenomenal hands and active athleticism, Simmons should also be capable of holding his own around the basket. He's fourth in the nation in rebounding and finishing 77.5 percent of his shots at the rim.

His signature passing and vision should translate right away as well, whether he's threading the needle from the pocket or driving-and-kicking to open shooters. The fact that he can contribute without having to score is a major plus when debating his NBA-readiness. Team fit shouldn't determine how well he performs next season.

Whichever organization lands Simmons will have likely found a franchise cornerstone—but also an immediate upgrade and contributor to its 2016-17 starting lineup.

All advanced stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.


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