Ranking the Top Returning 2017 NBA Draft Prospects in College Basketball

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterAugust 9, 2016

Ranking the Top Returning 2017 NBA Draft Prospects in College Basketball

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    Ivan Rabb
    Ivan RabbKyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    A flashy incoming freshman class has dominated too-early NBA draft discussion, but there are plenty of returning prospects who'll be worthy of first-round consideration.

    Last year, it was Buddy Hield and Kris Dunn who came back to blow up and go top 10. Denzel Valentine and Wade Baldwin IV were less obvious risers. It's going to happen again—under-the-radar sophomores, juniors and seniors whose games click and win scouts over.

    My top three returning prospects will each have the chance to find the 2017 lottery, but there are bound to be surprise veterans who also emerge as top-30 options.

    These rankings are based on NBA potential, which is determined by a combination of physical tools, athleticism, previous development, skill levels and intangibles.

Nos. 15-11

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    Devonte' Graham
    Devonte' GrahamKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    15. Chris Boucher (Oregon, PF/C, Senior)

    Boucher will be 24 years old by the 2017 draft, which hurts his chances of rising too high. Still, there will be teams intrigued by his rare ability to protect the rim (2.9 blocks per game) and stretch the floor (39 threes).

    He has terrific length (7'3 ½" wingspan), but a 193-pound frame this late in his development is scary. A big year could still earn Boucher looks in the first half of Round 2.

    14. Justin Jackson (North Carolina, SF, Junior)

    Jackson has solid 6'8" size and agility for a wing, along with a natural-looking jumper. It just hasn't connected consistently through two seasons with the North Carolina Tar Heels.

    Eventually, his three-balls should start falling, which would give him a key weapon to pair with his transition attack, floater game and passing.

    13. Monte Morris (Iowa State, PG, Senior)

    Morris' NBA outlook is hurt by a lack of blow-by speed and explosiveness. However, he's easily one of the nation's top point guards, with an ability to control the game and pick apart defenses as a facilitator.

    Morris, who has a career assist-to-turnover ratio of 5.2-to-1.2, is a fantastic decision-maker off the dribble. He'll just need to make more than 38 threes to diminish concern over limited speed and bounce.

    12. DJ Hogg (Texas A&M, SF, Sophomore)

    Hogg is a sleeper after a relatively quiet freshman year. He's a better shooter than his 33.1 percent three-point mark suggests and has had a sweet stroke dating back to high school. At 6'8", 216 pounds, he has good size and defensive tools.

    Look for Hogg to break out as a more complete scorer with Danuel House out of the picture.

    11. Devonte' Graham (Kansas, PG, Junior)

    Both quick and strong for a ball-handler, Graham can get his teammates involved and shoot with confidence.

    He's one of the Kansas Jayhawks' most valuable players despite registering a 16.9 percent usage rate, per Sports-Reference.com. Graham is a sneaky-good prospect whose supporting role will always limit his production. However, based on his sophomore year, you get the impression he'll be able to play that same role one day in the pros.

    Look for Graham to earn more recognition and love in this year's NBA draft discussion.

10. Cameron Oliver (Nevada, PF, Sophomore)

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    Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

    Early 2017 NBA draft projection: Late first to second round

    Scouts need to see: Improved shooting consistency and post game

    Numbers to improve: 13.4 points per game, 32.8 percent three-pointers

    The Mountain West Freshman of the Year, Cameron Oliver flashed intriguing potential with production and efficiency in key areas.

    He blocked 99 shots in 38 games while controlling the defensive glass (21.8 percent defensive rebound percentage). Though undersized (6'8") for a traditional NBA 4, Oliver compensates with bouncy athleticism and quickness.

    He'll have to make a bigger jump offensively in 2016-17, but with promising outside touch and face-up footwork, he's developed a skill set to build on. Oliver has a quick rip-through first move, making him difficult to contain in space. He can wiggle free with his back to the basket for quality looks in the paint.

    Oliver also connected on 73 two-point jumpers and 20 threes, per Hoop-Math.com, showing confident mechanics.

    He'll need to give scouts more offensive production as a projected higher-usage sophomore, especially against weaker mid-major competition. But between his explosiveness, foot speed, defense and inside-out versatility, Oliver's game covers ground at both ends.

9. Dwayne Bacon (Florida State, SG/SF, Sophomore)

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    Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    Early 2017 NBA draft projection: Mid-first to second round

    Scouts need to see: Improved defense and shooting

    Numbers to improve: 15.8 points per game, 28.1 percent three-pointers, 1.5 assists per game

    Athletic with 6'7" size and a pro 221-pound frame, Dwayne Bacon will have a chance to crack the 2017 first round.

    He'll see more opportunities following the departure of Malik Beasley—June's No. 19 pick. Bacon can put the ball in the hole from every spot on the floor, though he's clearly strongest in the paint off drives, cuts and transition.

    He blends power and body control with bounce around the rim, where he did most of his damage as a freshman (114 made field goals, per Hoop-Math.com). Bacon also flashed perimeter-scoring potential with shot creativity and shot-making, showing he can separate using pull-ups or step-backs and catch-and-shoot off the ball.

    Offensively, he resembles Arron Afflalo for his physical tools and ability to convert from all three levels.

    However, Bacon is still shaky from outside, having hit just 35.9 percent of his two-point jumpers and 28.1 percent of his threes. He has to raise those numbers to jump up this year's competitive board, especially considering he's not a playmaker (two assists per 40 minutes) or consistent defender.

8. V.J. Beachem (Notre Dame, SG/SF, Senior)

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Early 2017 NBA draft projection: Late first to second round

    Scouts need to see: Improved off-the-dribble game

    Numbers to improve: 12 points per game, 0.8 assists per game, 1.3 free-throw attempts per game

    A postseason breakout propels V.J. Beachem into these rankings.

    He went for 19 points in a big conference tournament win against Duke before averaging 17.5 points during the Notre Dame Fighting Irish's Elite Eight run. Beachem shot 65 percent and 12-of-22 from deep through four NCAA tournament games.

    Now, he becomes the man at Notre Dame with Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste no longer there.

    Beachem looks the part with 6'8" size, athleticism and fluid shot-making ability. He shot 44.4 percent on 198 three-point attempts and 41.6 percent on two-point jumpers, showing smooth rhythm as a spot-up threat and shooter off screens or movement.

    Outside of one- or two-dribble pull-ups, he isn't as threatening off the dribble, and he made just 27 free throws all season. Beachem gets to the rim by attacking closeouts, and with strong body control, he can adjust midair and convert off-balance looks in the lane. But scouts will want to see him do a better job of creating separation one-on-one.

    Considering he doesn't make plays for teammates (28 assists in 36 games), rebound (4.9 boards per 40 minutes) or force turnovers (29 total steals), Beachem will need his scoring to carry him up draft boards in 2016-17.

7. Grayson Allen (Duke, SG, Junior)

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    Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

    Early 2017 NBA draft projection: Mid-to-late first round

    Scouts need to see: Improvement against length and better defensive awareness 

    Numbers to improve: 39.8 percent field-goal mark in 17 games played against NCAA tournament teams

    Grayson Allen returns after averaging 21.6 points as the Duke Blue Devils' go-to scorer.

    He'll have a tough time raising that number in 2016-17 with the additions of big-name freshmen Harry Giles III, Jayson Tatum, Frank Jackson and Marques Bolden. Regardless, elite athleticism, a convincing jumper and adequate 2-guard size (6'5") should keep his name on first-round draft boards.

    Allen is explosive, both off the bounce and at the rim. The ability to blow by even led to 3.5 assists a game.

    This year, scouts will be looking for Allen to match last year's shooting accuracy (41.7 percent from three) and convert at a higher rate against quality opponentsKentucky, North Carolina, Oregon and Notre Dame gave him problems. Given his limited 6'6 ½" wingspan, it's a concern when projecting him at the NBA level.

    Scouts will also want to see stronger defensive awareness and effort from Allen, especially considering his questionable physical tools relative to other NBA 2-guards.

    Still, assuming his shot-making returns, the NBA-friendly mix of bounce and shooting should hold Allen afloat in the first-round discussion. He's likely to go somewhere in the 15-to-30 range, regardless of how he looks next season.

6. Thomas Bryant (Indiana, PF/C, Sophomore)

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    Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

    Early 2017 NBA draft projection: Mid-first to second round

    Scouts need to see: Sharper ball skills and defense

    Numbers to improve: 11.9 points per game, 0.9 blocks per game, five fouls per 40 minutes

    Scouts should be willing to exercise patience with Thomas Bryant, who possesses 6'10", 241-pound size, a 7'5 ½" wingspan and a 9'4" reach. He also just turned 19 years old over the summer.

    Bryant had some rough moments last year on defense, showing little awareness or feel while averaging 0.9 blocks per game and five fouls per 40 minutes. Still, he offers a mix of exceptional physical tools, motor and shooting potential, and he's coming off a season making 68.3 percent of his shots.

    A force under the offensive boards and a bouncy finisher at the rim, Bryant plays with high energy and contagious passion.

    Offensively, he does a nice job using angles to score over the shoulder around the key. He's flashed the body control to adjust and convert on the move after catching passes off rolls and dives in traffic. On occasion, we've seen face-up offense, including the random three-ball (5-of-15) or drive.

    All the ingredients are there—the question is when and whether he puts them together. Bryant needs to polish his ball skills and improve his defense in year No. 2 with the Indiana Hoosiers.

5. Ogugua Anunoby (Indiana, SF, Sophomore)

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    Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

    Early 2017 NBA draft projection: Mid-first to second round

    Scouts need to see: Improvement as a shooter and shot-creator

    Numbers to improve: 4.9 points per game, 1.1 threes per 40 minutes, 47.6 percent free throws

    Ogugua Anunoby made a name for himself playing just 13.7 minutes per game as a freshman.

    Coaches can't teach his physical tools (6'8", 215 lbs), athleticism and motor. He doesn't project as a shot-creator in the half court, but his energy, bounce and aggression should still continue leading to easy buckets off cuts, transition, line drives and putbacks.

    Though the sample size was tiny, he even flashed shot-making potential, having hit 13 of 29 threes in limited action.

    Still, Anunoby's defensive playmaking and versatility will remain his most attractive selling points. He has the size and length to match up with 4s, along with the quickness to stick wings and 2-guards. He also averaged 2.3 steals and 2.2 blocks per 40 minutes, showing the ability to anticipate, jump passing lanes, force turnovers and swat shots.

    He impacts games with off-ball activity at both ends of the floor.

    The departures of Yogi Ferrell and Troy Williams will result in a lot more playing time for Anunoby, but he'll need to be comfortable handling the ball and finding ways to score once the game slows down. Strengthening his spot-up shooting credibility will be his No. 1 priority, as that would allow him to rock the coveted three-and-D label heading into the draft.

4. Edmond Sumner (Xavier, PG/SG, Sophomore)

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    Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

    Early 2017 NBA draft projection: Mid-first to second round

    Scouts need to see: Improvement as a shooter and decision-maker

    Numbers to improve: 11 points per game, 30.1 percent three-point, 27.9 percent two-point jumpers

    After knee issues forced him to redshirt his freshman year, Edmond Sumner bounced back to emerge as a key weapon for a 28-win Xavier team.

    Sumner's appeal still stems from potential, not production or polish. He shot just 39.7 percent and only averaged 11 points. But with 6'5 ½" size, 6'8" length, exciting athleticism and combo guard skills, Sumner's upside screams NBA.

    He's a ball-handler, playmaker and slasher from either backcourt position. Quickness, agility and body control fuel Sumner's attacking and acrobatic finishing ability. He's also a capable facilitator off ball screens and penetration.

    Sports Illustrated's Luke Winn recently pegged him as one of the top performers at the Nike Skills Academy in July, mentioning that "more than one NBA scout thought Sumner might end up being the academy's highest eventual draft pick, either in 2017 or 2018."

    That will all depend on Sumner's development as a perimeter scorer and decision-maker. He made just 12 two-point jumpers and 25 threes all season while registering a 16.4 percent turnover rate, per Sports-Reference.com.

3. Jaron Blossomgame (Clemson, SF, Senior)

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    Dawson Powers-USA TODAY Sports

    Early 2017 NBA draft projection: Late lottery to late first round

    Scouts need to see: More perimeter shot-making

    Numbers to improve: 18.7 points per game, 1.5 assists

    Jaron Blossomgame chose to return after going through last year's entire predraft process.

    "I feel I can come back and improve my stock tremendously with the opportunities I have here at Clemson," Blossomgame said, per the Post and Courier's Aaron Brenner.

    Working with NBA coaches, speaking to evaluators and attending the combine couldn't have hurt.

    At 6'7", 220 pounds and loaded with explosive athleticism, he already aces the NBA wing eye test. He also has production to back up the potential, having averaged 18.7 points and registered monster games against Miami (25 points), Notre Dame (30 points), North Carolina State (33 points) and Virginia (31 points).

    Blossomgame, a strong finisher off drives and cuts, made significant strides last year as a three-point shooter. He hit 45 triples, up from 17, and raised his percentage to 44.1 percent.

    The next step is making more of them to build a better case as a shooter, considering his unorthodox mechanics, an unconvincing 102-attempt sample size and a 36.3 percent clip on two-point jumpers, per Hoop-Math.com.

2. Tyler Lydon (Syracuse, PF, Sophomore)

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    Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

    Early 2017 NBA draft projection: Late lottery to late first round

    Scouts need to see: Interior presence, two-point scoring

    Numbers to improve: 10.1 points, 6.3 rebounds

    While Tyler Lydon put up pedestrian freshman numbers, his specific skill set and strengths stand out under the NBA lens.

    Stretch 4s are always in demand, particularly ones who can also protect the rim. Lydon shot 40.5 percent from downtown and blocked 1.8 shots a game.

    The fact he made 77.4 percent of his free throws suggests his shooting accuracy wasn't a fluke.

    High basketball IQ, along with the ability to make plays without needing dribbles or isolation touches, helps sell the idea Lydon should fit any NBA lineup.

    He'll want to improve his 8.3 rebounds per 40 minutes to extinguish the argument he isn't physical enough inside. Assuming his 16.6 percent usage rate, per Sports-Reference.com, rises dramatically in 2016-17, it's important he maintains last year's efficiency while expanding on his two-point shot creativity.

    Otherwise, it's clear Lydon knows how to play. Expect an increase in scoring and rebounding production, as well as another strong year shooting from deep, to result in 2017 mid-first-round interest.

1. Ivan Rabb (California, PF, Sophomore)

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    Early 2017 NBA draft projection: Late lottery

    Scouts need to see: Offensive development

    Numbers to improve: 12.5 points, 66.9 percent free throws

    Ivan Rabb is the only returning NBA prospect who'd have drawn lottery interest in 2015.

    He'll return as the California Golden Bears' featured option after finishing fifth last year in field-goal attempts per game (7.7). Rabb, who stands 6'11", 220 pounds, will see a lot more touches and one-on-one scoring opportunities as a sophomore during 2016-17.

    Impressive physical tools, above-average quickness, sticky hands and bounce create the perception that Rabb's floor is high. Even if scouts see the same player they saw in 2015-16, we'll still be talking about a late-lotto to mid-first-round talent. At the least, his finishing ability, rebounding instincts and low-post play should translate.

    Developing into a reliable go-to scorer with polished moves and consistent mid-range touch takes Rabb into this year's top 10.

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