NBA Draft 2016: Jonathan Wasserman's Top 30 Big Board Entering the Draft Lottery
The 2016 NBA Draft Combine was a success for a number of players who were able to show off their game against fellow pro prospects.
Next up is the May 17 lottery, a big night for a number of bottom-of-the-barrel teams, including the Los Angeles Lakers, who could lose their pick if it lands outside the top three.
Prospects are now officially in workout and interview mode. From here on out, most will be traveling from city to city auditioning for various teams. A few should have ultimately earned themselves future guaranteed rookie contracts.
The rankings are based on NBA potential, which is determined by a combination of factors such as physical tools, athleticism, skills, intangibles, age and production. This is not necessarily a reflection of where I believe each prospect will be picked.
1. Ben Simmons (LSU, SF/PF, Freshman)
Ben Simmons started the year atop our board, and though some questions have been raised, they aren't alarming enough for me to drop him from the No. 1 spot.
He'll fit right in from opening night with that 6'10", 240-pound frame, exceptional athletic ability and versatility. His basement floor is high. Regardless of whether his jumper improves, Simmons' ball-handling, playmaking, transition attack and rebounding seem guaranteed to translate.
Bigs are going to have a difficult time containing him in space around the perimeter, where he can blow by left or right and finish with both hands off one foot.
He becomes one of the game's most daunting mismatches if he's eventually able to start converting in the mid-range. And though he didn't take many shots outside the paint as a freshman at LSU, it's too early to simply write his stroke off as broken.
2. Brandon Ingram (Duke, SF, Freshman)
One of Brandon Ingram's most appealing qualities is the fact he'll fit anywhere. Every team could use more shooting, and Ingram, who averaged 2.2 threes and shot 41 percent from deep in his only season at Duke, has shown he can play on or off the ball.
With it, he's flashed one-on-one scoring potential fueled by ball-handling and shot-making ability. He still lacks polish, but Ingram can separate into pull-up or fall-back jumpers and slice through gaps to get to the hoop.
Plus, at 6'9" with a ridiculous 7'3" wingspan, he'll have a height and length advantage against just about every wing or 2-guard.
There are some strong wing defenders in today's NBA. Can Ingram be a star with a body that thin? I'd feel more comfortable taking him with the No. 2 pick than the first.
3. Dragan Bender (Croatia, PF, 1997)
A lack of obvious star power in the draft has something to do with Dragan Bender's No. 3 ranking. He hasn't showed too much in 12.3 minutes a game overseas, but his unique offensive versatility has drawn rave reviews since the 2013 Under-16 European Championships.
He's a fluid athlete for a 7'1" big man who can also stretch the floor and shoot the three (36.2 percent this year). And when given space, Bender looks comfortable handling the ball, whether it's in transition or facing up from the short corners.
Though not known for his one-on-one scoring, he's a high-IQ passer, which plays to his high-end role-player potential.
Defensively, he's shown he can block shots from the weak side and switch onto quicker players in pick-and-roll coverage.
A lack of strength and athleticism weigh down his upside, but Bender's jack-of-all-trades skill set and feel for the game are tough to argue against.
4. Buddy Hield (Oklahoma, SG, Senior)
There just aren't many questions with Buddy Hield, which goes a long way in 2016 when there is so much uncertainty.
There isn't any reason to believe Hield's shooting stroke won't translate. This year, he improved his ability to create shots around the perimeter. It's not just spot-ups either; Hield has looked dangerous pulling up in transition or stepping back into fallaways late in the shot clock.
I'm not sure he's the NBA's next star, but I could see him thriving in a J.J. Redick-like role. Hield ultimately ranks No. 4 due to his believability and the value tied to his core strength—shooting.
5. Kris Dunn (Providence, PG, Junior)
Kris Dunn falls into the limited category of sure-thing options. He's clearly an NBA player and likely starter with the right organization.
At 6'4 ¼" with a 6'9 ½" wingspan and athleticism that's easy on the eyes, Dunn should be in the running for 2017 NBA Rookie of the Year.
He's at his best in transition and ball-screen situations, which he'll find himself in frequently as a pro. Dunn is going to be a problem off the bounce and in the open floor, where he can change speed and direction on a dime.
His core NBA strength will be setting the table; Dunn is a strong shot-creator, more so for his teammates than himself.
The fact he projects as a defensive asset helps compensate for questionable decision-making and poor shooting. Dunn's pressure on the ball has the potential to impact games. He should still have something to offer on days his offensive efficiency is low.
How often will that be? Dunn turns the ball over a lot, and his jumper remains shaky. I'd feel a lot better about his potential to improve if he wasn't already 22 years old.
6. Jamal Murray (Kentucky, SG, Freshman)
Jamal Murray's most appealing skill is his ability to make tough shots in a variety of ways, regardless of how the defender is playing him.
He's not the smoothest one-on-one player and doesn't pack an overly quick first step. But he's absolutely lethal spotting up and shooting off screens. Murray hit 113 threes on 40.8 percent shooting during his one-and-done college season.
On the downside, he lacks explosiveness off the bounce and rarely gets to the rim, which means he'll be relying heavily on low-percentage jumpers.
Murray's confidence and potentially streaky offensive game make him a strong sixth-man candidate down the road. He'll need to improve defensively, but the risk here seems low.
7. Jaylen Brown (California, SF, Freshman)
On one hand, Jaylen Brown packs upside. On the other, it doesn't mean anything unless he makes major improvements over the next few years.
Brown is a spectacular athlete with textbook tools. Physically, he could be a tough assignment right off the bat.
The open floor remains his best friend. Brown is dangerous in transition and attacking opening lanes. He took 9.2 free-throw attempts per 40 minutes.
But he also registered a 51.8 percent true shooting percentage after making 29.4 percent of his threes and 65.4 percent of his free throws. Brown's shooting stroke and ball-handling skills need significant work, because at this stage, he's just not a strong enough threat in the half court.
The good news: Skills can improve, while you can't teach size or bounce.
8. Wade Baldwin IV (Vanderbilt, PG, Sophomore)
Wade Baldwin IV seems like one of the more polarizing prospects in this year's draft. But given the lack of star power at the top, this would be a good year to gamble on him early.
He was one of the stars of the combine without stepping foot onto the floor, measuring 6'4", 201.8 pounds with an incredible 6'11 ¼" wingspan. His lane-agility time also tied for the second-fastest at the combine.
Baldwin has the potential to become a monster defensive player. And though he still has kinks to work out on offense, he'll enter the league with a tested jumper and transition game built for the pros. He shot at least 40 percent from three in each year at Vanderbilt. And he's an above-the-rim athlete—an attractive quality for a ball-handler.
Playmaking isn't his core strength, but he knows what he's doing as a facilitator off ball screens and penetration. On the downside, he doesn't have much of a pull-up or in-between game, and he struggles around the rim.
Worst-case scenario, I still believe Baldwin can settle in as a defensive-minded backup. But I can also see his game taking off once his skills catch up to his physical tools.
9. Domantas Sabonis (Gonzaga, PF, Sophomore)
He's flawed, but Domantas Sabonis' rebounding (20.7 percent rebounding percentage), competitiveness and overall efficiency are easy to buy.
His motor and nose for the ball are going to translate inside, despite his limited length and bounce. Finishing above 60 percent from the floor in each year at Gonzaga wasn't an accident, either. Sabonis has terrific instincts around the basket and can convert with either hand.
But it's the offensive strides he made that pushes him into the top 10. Sabonis' jump hook became a reliable weapon in the post, and though he's by no means a stretch big, his 76.9 percent free-throw clip and mid-range touch suggest shooting potential.
Sabonis isn't a flashy athlete or intimidating defender, but his toughness and developing scoring attack are worth targeting late in the lottery.
10. Jakob Poeltl (Utah, C, Sophomore)
Jakob Poeltl seems like one of the safer bets, given his 7'1" size, 7'2 ¾" length (better-than-expected), soft hands and above-average mobility.
He's a high-percentage target around the basket, whether his post skills translate or not. Poeltl did improve dramatically as a one-on-one scorer, and he developed into a strong shot-creator with his back to the basket or facing up from the short corners.
He also put together another strong rebounding season (12 per 40 minutes).
Unfortunately, while his minutes increased, his shot blocking fell pretty hard. His 5 percent block percentage was notably low, per Sports-Reference.com.
If it turns out Poeltl doesn't stretch the floor and he isn't the rim protector he initially looked like, his value in the pros would take a major hit. At the very least, we're talking about a high-end backup. Chances are better that some team looking for an upgrade at the 5 will groom him into its long-term starting center.
11. Denzel Valentine (Michigan State, SG, Senior)
Valentine's offensive versatility and core strengths look awfully NBA-friendly. He knocked down over 100 threes for the second straight year (44.4 percent) and finished second in national assist percentage, per Sports-Reference.com.
His blend of shooting and passing should ultimately act as a life jacket throughout his NBA career.
But he isn't the most explosive athlete. His 32" max vertical wasn't very inspiring, though it was to be expected. Valentine lacks blow-by burst and bounce around the basket.
The fact he measured a quarter-inch under 6'6" with a strong 6'10 ¾" wingspan was encouraging, though.
12. Henry Ellenson (Marquette, PF, Freshman)
Ellenson is arguably the draft's most skilled power forward. The question is whether his lack of quickness and athleticism will hold him back. He struggles off one foot, doesn't protect the rim and projects poorly as a perimeter defender.
However, Ellenson is polished and has the offensive versatility teams traditionally look for at power forward. He knocked down 30 threes, shot 42.7 percent on two-point jumpers, per Hoop-Math.com, and showed he can score with his back to the basket.
Measuring 6'11 ½" with a 7'2 ¼" wingspan at the combine was also a win.
13. Malik Beasley (Florida State, SG, Freshman)
Beasley projects as a fairly convincing complementary scorer. He's explosive, which translates to easy buckets in transition and off slashes. And he shot 38.7 percent on 142 three-point attempts as a freshman.
His athleticism and shooting, along with encouraging defensive quickness, should work well at the NBA level. But he's also flashed glimpses of in-between shot-making with pull-ups and floaters. Beasley just lacks great size (6'4 ½", 6'7" length) and shot-creativity.
14. DeAndre' Bembry (Saint Joseph's, SG/SF, Junior)
Heading into the combine, Bembry was my top-ranked prospect participating in five-on-fives. Nothing changes after his week in Chicago, when he looked like an NBA player among NBA hopefuls.
His feel for the game is obvious. Bembry has unteachable passing and playmaking instincts, unique traits for a 6'6" wing. He's also an explosive athlete who does a nice job sniffing out transition opportunities. And he can burst through an open lane out of triple-threat position.
The big knock on Bembry is his jumper, which was never consistent through three years at Saint Joseph's. For what it's worth, he looked awfully comfortable during drilling and scrimmaging at the combine. I'm buying into his versatility and potential to improve as a shooter.
15. Demetrius Jackson (Notre Dame, PG, Junior)
Jackson was unsurprisingly a standout during athletic testing, when he got up for a tremendous 43 ½" max vertical. His bounce and strength help compensate for limited height (6'1 ¼") and length (6'5 ½").
He isn't a dynamic playmaker or scorer; instead, he's more of a passer and shot-maker. Jackson is better at taking what the defense gives him than he is creating opportunities.
Still, between his athleticism and strong fundamentals, he checks out under the NBA lens. I'm picturing a fine backup guard who brings some toughness and stability off the bench.
16. Marquese Chriss (Washington, PF, Freshman)
It's a cliche at this point, but Chriss is this year's biggest boom-or-bust draft option. He's loaded with athleticism and arguably more bounce than anyone in the field. His jumper also looks smooth, something you don't typically hear when discussing raw prospects.
However, his 8.6 rebounds per 40 minutes were extraordinary low, while his 6.5 fouls per 40 minutes highlights a questionable defensive IQ. He's not tough inside and isn't the sharpest perimeter scorer yet.
As appealing as his upside is, there is also bust potential here to watch out for.
17. Skal Labissiere (Kentucky, PF/C, Freshman)
Labissiere's lack of strength, toughness and feel for the game were exposed his freshman season. He finished with just five more total rebounds than fouls and had three times as many turnovers (33) than assists (11).
Still, at 7'0" with a convincing shooting stroke, his size, bounce and jumper should be enough for him to stick. He has moves in the post, but I see Labissiere's career following the same path Channing Frye's did as a usable backup.
18. Furkan Korkmaz (Turkey, SG/SF, 1997)
According to his agent, Korkmaz now has a buyout over the summer with Anadolu Efes. Although, if I were a general manager, I'd rather stash him overseas and let him develop another year among pros. He's too young and skinny to offer much as a rookie in 2017.
Long term, however, Korkmaz's bounce and elite shooting stroke should be coveted. Though his minutes were limited this season, he knocked down 43.3 percent of his threes between Euroleague and Turkish League play.
He'll need another year or two to build up both his reps and body.
19. Deyonta Davis (Michigan State, PF, Freshman)
Davis may be the top defensive big man in this year's draft, after he averaged 3.9 blocks per 40 minutes and flashed the foot speed to contain around the perimeter. He also registered a strong 13.5 percent offensive rebounding percentage. At the very least, we should be talking about a defensive asset who cleans the glass and finishes efficiently around the basket.
Unfortunately, his offensive game is too limited to earn a spot in my top 15. I see him in a supporting role, whether it's as a serviceable backup or low-end starter. Davis should ultimately be capable of logging minutes at both the 4 and 5.
20. Taurean Prince (Baylor, SF, Senior)
Prince looks the part of an NBA forward with 6'7 ¾" size, 6'11 ½" length, a 220.2-pound frame and a smooth-looking jumper. He's knocked down at least 36 percent of his threes during each of his last three seasons. And he's a tough line driver when given an open lane to slash through.
His one-on-one shot-creativity needs work, and Prince doesn't have that natural feel for the game. But there is enough three-and-D potential here worth looking into with a mid-first-round pick.
21. Timothe Luwawu (France, SG/SF, 1995)
He had a breakout year in the Adriatic League after spending last season in France's second division. Luwawu certainly looks the part of an NBA wing, between his 6'7" size and explosive bounce. This year, he even knocked down 1.97 three-pointers per game at a 35.7 percent clip, strengthening his image as a three-and-D option.
However, he only shoots 39.6 percent from the floor, highlighting poor selection and weak shot-creating ability. Luwawu won't be known for efficiency, but his athleticism, jumper and defensive potential are mid-first-round worthy.
22. Ante Zizic (Croatia, C, 1997)
At 6'11", 240 pounds, Zizic will make his money hustling, finishing and tracking down boards. He's not a skilled scorer, but he positions himself for easy buckets and rebounds by running the floor and tapping into his motor. Zizic ultimately projects as an energizer capable of making plays without needing any run for him.
23. Cheick Diallo (Kansas, PF/C, Freshman)
Diallo was terrific at the combine during five-on-fives, particularly on Thursday, when he cashed in 18 points and four blocks. Whether his offensive game develops or not, his athleticism, length, motor and nose for the ball should still translate to shot-blocking, rim running, rebounding and finishing.
24. Ben Bentil (Providence, PF, Sophomore)
At the combine, Bentil looked like the scoring machine he was for Providence. He lacks great size (6'8¼") and athleticism, but his skills are sharp, while his offensive versatility seems to fit the mold of an NBA stretch 4.
25. Malachi Richardson (Syracuse, SG, Freshman)
Richardson caught scouts' attention during the NCAA tournament, when he scored 21 points against Dayton, 23 against Virginia and 17 in Syracuse's Final Four loss to North Carolina. He then measured 6'6¼" with a 7'0" wingspan at the combine, textbook numbers for an NBA 2-guard. Richardson has a sweet stroke to match the size and enough athleticism for the position. He becomes a steal if he can improve his shot selection and mid-range game.
26. Ivica Zubac (Croatia, C, 1997)
Zubac was limited to just scrimmaging (ineligibility) for the past four months after leaving Cibona and signing with Mega Leks. He's played three games during May and scored at least 10 points in each. At 7'1", 265 pounds, he's a monster physically with good hands around the rim. He'll have a shot at sticking as a bruising backup center.
27. Stephen Zimmerman (UNLV, C, Freshman)
Zimmerman doesn't have the production to back up the potential; he looks like he's a year or two away. But long term, there is plenty to like about his 6'11 ¾" size, 7'3 ¼" length, offensive versatility and shot blocking. He even pulled down 13.4 boards per 40 minutes. He's a boom-or-bust pick worth gambling on in the 20s.
28. Brice Johnson (North Carolina, PF, Senior)
Johnson's role in the pros won't be any different from what it was at North Carolina. He doesn't stretch the floor or offer much rim protection, which hurts his value in today's NBA. But he should still be able to carve out a career as an interior energizer who rebounds, finishes and puts pressure on the rim.
29. Tyler Ulis (Kentucky, PG, Sophomore)
It's tough to fully buy into Ulis, who only weighed 149.2 pounds at the combine. However, I'd still pull the trigger with a late-first-round pick. Despite severe physical limitations, teams shouldn't negate his unteachable feel for the game and basketball IQ. Coaches will value his ability to run an offense and hit the right buttons. He'll be fine as long as he can make enough jump shots and not get run over on defense.
30. Juan Hernangomez (Spain, SF/PF, 1995)
He ran into a wall midseason in Spain, but Hernangomez is back on his game, having hit nine of his last 16 three-point attempts. He's not a shot-creator, but his 6'9" size, shooting stroke, energy and competitiveness highlight versatility and role-player potential.