2017 NBA Draft Big Board: Who to Watch as NBA Season Begins
With the 2016-17 NBA season underway and college basketball just around the corner on Nov. 11, it's time to unveil our final preseason draft-prospect big board.
Exciting new freshmen are the driving force behind 2017's strong projected field. Duke, Kentucky, Kansas and even Washington will have must-watch teams and players for scouts on weaker teams expected to choose early in June's lottery.
A handful of lower-profile prospects managed to make some noise over the summer during events such as Adidas Nations, FIBA tournaments and the Nike Skills Academy. Scouts have also already started making their rounds to team practices and scrimmages.
These rankings are based on NBA potential, which is determined by a combination of physical tools, athleticism, skills, intangibles, age and production. However, this is not necessarily a reflection of where I believe each prospect will be picked.
No. 50-No. 48
50. Monte Morris (Iowa State, PG, Senior)
Though one of the nation's top point guards, Monte Morris is likely a second-round prospect without great athleticism or scoring ability. A fantastic assist-to-turnover ratio won't be enough to crack the top 30.
He's still a terrific facilitator, passer and decision-maker. Making more than 1.1 threes per game and raising his 14.5 points per 40 minutes will be keys to improving his draft stock.
49. Jawun Evans (Oklahoma State, PG, Sophomore)
Jawun Evans lacks explosiveness but not quickness. Teams could value his ability to shake off the dribble, break down defenses and set the table for teammates.
He dished out 6.8 assists per 40 minutes last year without a strong supporting cast, and despite his 6'0" size, he managed to shoot 47.1 percent. Scouts will need to see better decision-making—he had 3.5 turnovers per 40 minutes last season—and a larger sample size of three-point shooting (19-of-40), but Evans' playmaking potential is worth monitoring.
48. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (Kansas, SG/SF, Junior)
It's premature to write off Mykhailiuk, as he just turned 19 years old last June. His 6'8" size and athleticism still exist after two quiet seasons at Kansas, and with a bigger role his offensive game could come together this season. His shooting stroke looks good (40.2 percent from three in 2015-16), and his ball-handling skills hit at scoring and playmaking potential.
No. 47-No. 45
47. V.J. King (Louisville, F/SG, Freshman)
V.J. King should play a significant, immediate role at Louisville, though it may take two years before he's ready to test his luck in the NBA draft. Still, King's scoring and jumper are intriguing for an athletic, 6'6" 2-guard or wing. The 2018 draft is a more likely exit opportunity to the pros, but he'll make his mark on NBA radars this upcoming season.
46. Johnathan Motley (Baylor, PF, Junior)
Johnathan Motley shot 61.4 percent and averaged 21.2 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per 40 minutes his sophomore year. He sharpened his post game and expanded his versatility by adding face-up drives and some mid-range touch.
An athletic, 6'10" power forward, Motley lacks discipline at both ends and isn't advanced enough in any one area. But with his physical tools, taking another step forward with skill development should translate to more NBA love.
45. Jessie Govan (Georgetown, C, Sophomore)
Jessie Govan isn't a great athlete, but his particular skills for a center won't go unnoticed in a bigger sophomore role. At 6'10", 270 pounds, he knocked in 14 of 28 threes and shot 83.1 percent from the line last season. With a back-to-the-basket game, shooting range and shot-blocking tools, he'll have the chance to establish himself as a potential backup NBA center.
No. 44-No. 42
44. Frank Jackson (Duke, PG/SG, Freshman)
Frank Jackson projects as Duke's primary ball-handler, though his athleticism, scoring and shooting are ahead of his playmaking. He's strong with bounce, three-point range and the ability to stop-and-pop inside the arc.
The questions are whether he's big enough (6'3") to play off-guard or capable of running an offense and creating for teammates.
43. Chimezie Metu (USC, C, Sophomore)
Chimezie Metu stands out with 6'11" size, quickness and athleticism that shows up on big finishes and blocks. He'll look to showcase a more polished offensive attack and convert the flashes of face-up drives and mid-range jumpers into regular occurrences.
He may not be ready this upcoming June, but Metu's physical tools, defense and budding skills should eventually get scouts talking.
42. Allonzo Trier (Arizona, SG, Sophomore)
Allonzo Trier poured in 14.8 points per game as a freshman, and at 6'5", 210 pounds with enough athleticism, he checks out physically for an NBA 2-guard.
He only totaled 30 assists in 27 games—a stat that highlights minimal playmaking and passing skills. Thus, he'll ultimately need his scoring and his defense to carry him. Trier will also have to make a more convincing case as a shooter (1.5 threes per game, 36.4 percent) to maximize his chances of drawing first-round interest.
No. 41-No. 39
41. Arnoldas Kulboka (Lithuania, SF, 1998)
Arnoldas Kulboka stood out at Basketball Without Borders Global Camp last February. His body isn't developed, but with 6'9" size for a wing, his ball-handling and perimeter game are intriguing. He'll hit the second-round draft-and-stash radar this year playing in Germany.
40. DJ Hogg (Texas A&M, SF, Sophomore)
DJ Hogg will see a lot more scoring chances with Danuel House off to the pros. Though not a flashy athlete for a wing, Hogg has impressive 6'9", 220-pound size, along with a sweet shooting stroke that should produce better results as his reps increase in 2017.
Expect a more confident, versatile scorer who can light it up from deep, attack and defend both forward positions.
39. Cameron Oliver (Nevada, PF, Sophomore)
Per-40-minute averages of 18.2 points, 12.3 rebounds and 3.5 blocks have Cameron Oliver on the 2016-17 must-watch prospect list. He's only 6'8"—small for an NBA 4—and doesn't stretch the floor or face up from outside. Still, Oliver has created a compelling case with high-end athleticism, heavy activity and flashes of post moves and jumpers.
No. 38-No. 36
38. Rawle Alkins (Arizona, SG, Freshman)
Rawle Alkins has the NBA body at 6'5", 220 pounds for a 2-guard. And he's an advanced scorer for a freshman with shooting range, shot-creating ability and drives. Shot selection and consistency in a loaded Arizona lineup will be challenges in his first year. He'll likely have a better setting to pitch himself to NBA scouts as a featured sophomore in 2017-18.
37. Thomas Bryant (Indiana, PF/C, Sophomore)
Thomas Bryant owns NBA physical tools with 6'10", 255-pound size and an enormous 7'5 ½" wingspan (as of 2014). And he was efficient last season, having shot 68.3 percent. Strong at the rim, threatening on the block, active under the boards and capable from outside, Bryant has versatility and a monster body that give him a shot to draw first-round interest.
But he'll have to make significant strides at the defensive end, where he was exposed away from the basket and offered minimal rim protection inside. Other than finishing, he doesn't excel in any one area offensively, and he turned the ball over too much for a low-usage big (2.9 turnovers per 40 minutes).
36. Dwayne Bacon (Florida State, SG/SF, Sophomore)
Dwayne Bacon didn't have trouble scoring as a freshman (15.8 points per game), and with 6'7", 221-pound size and athleticism, he sports a textbook body for an NBA wing.
Improving his efficiency will be key in year No. 2 at Florida State. Though capable of creating shots and making them from all over the floor, he only hit 28.1 percent of his threes and 35.9 percent of his two-point jumpers, per Hoop-Math.com. Sharpening his perimeter game and improving his defense could propel Bacon into this year's late-first-round discussion.
No. 35-No. 33
35. Kerwin Roach Jr. (Texas, PG/SG, Sophomore)
One of the premier athletes in college hoops, Kerwin Roach will look to show scouts his skills and his feel are catching up to his tools and his leaping ability. His jumper and playmaking ability are better than last year's numbers suggest. Roach must build on his 32.8 percent three-point mark and 2.7 assists per 40 minutes to emerge as a legitimate first-round prospect.
34. Ray Smith (Arizona, SF/PF, Freshman)
Ray Smith looks healthy (based on Arizona's Red-Blue scrimmage) following last year's torn ACL. And a healthy Smith should create NBA buzz.
An athletic combo forward at 6'8", he'll earn minutes with defensive versatility. But he's also flashed glimpses of shooting touch and finishes at the rim. He'll be a candidate to rise as his role increases and scouts get a clearer picture of what he brings (or doesn't bring) to the table.
33. Omer Yurtseven (North Carolina State, C, Freshman)
The NCAA has still not cleared Omer Yurtseven (questions over amateur status), but scouts have seen plenty of him over the years, including recently at the FIBA U20 European Championships, where he averaged 10.4 points, 5.6 boards and 1.4 blocks in 18.1 minutes a game for Turkey.
At 7'0", he's mobile and fluid with good hands around the basket. And though he's not a shooter, his mid-range jump-shot mechanics are smooth. His lack of polish and toughness could turn scouts off, but centers this coordinated don't grow on trees.
No. 32-No. 30
32. V.J. Beachem (Notre Dame, SG/SF, Senior)
V.J. Beachem's career 41.3 percent three-point stroke highlights shooting-specialist potential. He knocks down jumpers off spot-ups, screens and pull-ups, and he'll attack hard closeouts with line drives, which he's converted into the occasional monster finish at the rim.
At 6'8", he also has excellent size and athleticism for a wing. But Beachem doesn't create or play lockdown perimeter defense—two weaknesses that damage his ranking and his value.
31. Andrew Jones (Texas, PG/SG, Freshman)
Andrew Jones is a sleeper freshman whose ranking could jump once the season gets going. He'll make noise with athleticism and better-than-expected point guard skills at Texas; however, it wouldn't be shocking to see him return for a bigger sophomore role.
Still, his playmaking and perimeter scoring for a 6'4" ball-handler fuel NBA potential. He'll be more of a long-term project worth tracking for scouts.
30. Felipe Dos Anjos (Brazil, C, 1998)
Felipe Dos Anjos opened eyes during 2016's Basketball Without Borders Global Camp after winning MVP in January's Euroleague Adidas Next Generation Tournament earlier—you can't miss him at 7'2", 230 pounds. He lacks bounce and explosiveness, but Dos Anjos compensates with his soft touch in the mid-range, good hands around the basket and admirable competitiveness.
He's become a must-track international name overseas, though it wouldn't be surprising if he waited another year or two to declare.
No. 29-No. 27
29. Carlton Bragg Jr. (Kansas, PF, Sophomore)
After playing just 8.9 minutes a game as a freshman, Carlton Bragg projects as one of Kansas' key bigs and a potential 2017 first-round riser. His body, athleticism and jumper stand out under the NBA lens. He made 43.6 percent on two-point jumpers last season, per Hoop-Math.com, and he does most of his damage as a finisher, mid-range shooter and rebounder.
This year, he'll want to show scouts a more advanced post game and better defensive instincts, having averaged 7.2 fouls per 40 minutes in 2015-16.
28. Edmond Sumner (Xavier, PG, Sophomore)
Edmond Sumner's 6'5" size and explosive athleticism give him tantalizing upside at point guard. Teams have had a difficult time keeping him from getting to the basket, where he took roughly half of his shots as a freshman, per Hoop-Math.com.
As a sophomore, he'll need to convert his freshman flashes of potential into more consistent production. Sumner's shaky jumper will be under the microscope, as will his ability to run the offense and set the table for teammates.
27. Wenyen Gabriel (Kentucky, PF, Freshman)
Wenyen Gabriel will win over scouts and fans with high energy at both ends of the floor. He plays baseline to baseline and guards multiple positions with 6'9" size, length (8'11" standing reach) and foot speed. He lacks strength down low (197 lbs) and skills around the perimeter, but he's shown flashes of mid-range shooting and line-drive attacking, and his motor under the boards should still translate to a solid rebounding rate.
No. 26-No. 24
26. Devonte' Graham (Kansas, PG, Junior)
Devonte' Graham should finally draw NBA interest in year No. 3 at Kansas, where he's slid below the radar playing alongside higher-profile talents and veteran scorers.
The departures of Wayne Selden Jr. and Perry Ellis should allow Graham to shine more frequently. He's not a high-flier or physical mismatch, but he's quick and sharp off the dribble with a career 43.8 percent three-point stroke. Teams will value his ability to run pick-and-rolls, shoot off the dribble and knock down triples.
Poised, confident and tough defensively, Graham has backup NBA point guard written all over him.
25. Grayson Allen (Duke, SG, Junior)
Grayson Allen returns to strengthen his NBA draft stock and compete for 2017 National Player of the Year. He isn't likely to match last year's 21.6 points per game, but that's not what scouts will be looking for. The 90 threes and 41.7 percent long-range clip are the more important numbers given his projected NBA role.
Allen won't be asked to create in the pros. Instead, he'll have the chance to carve out a career by exploding in transition, putting pressure on the rim and shooting.
24. Rodions Kurucs (Latvia, SF, 1998)
An athletic 18-year-old wing with 6'8" size and a promising shooting stroke, Rodions Kurucs is now playing with Barcelona's senior team, though he'll miss time after undergoing knee surgery for a meniscus injury. He's an obvious talent who'll draw NBA scouts to Spain upon his return, but 2018 may be the better year to declare.
No. 23-No. 21
23. Jonathan Jeanne (France, PF/C, 1997)
After spending last year with the development team for Le Mans Sarthe Basket, Jonathan Jeanne should see minutes in LNB Pro A this year. He's already drawn attention with an early season line of 19 points, 17 rebounds and seven blocks (junior division).
Mobile at 7'2", Jeanne's talent has never been tough to spot. His measurements resemble Rudy Gobert's, and though he's not as strong around the basket, he's flashed unusual shooting touch for player his size.
22. Jaron Blossomgame (Clemson, SF/PF, Senior)
Arguably the top senior in the country after averaging 18.7 points per game and shooting 44.1 percent from three as a junior, Jaron Blossomgame will look to convert the production and numbers into 2017 first-round love. It's bound to happen—he's added to and sharpened his game with every season.
Having gone through the 2016 draft process, worked out for teams and attended the NBA Draft Combine, he should have a good idea of what scouts will be looking for: more perimeter shot creativity and shot-making. Last season, Blossomgame made just 1.5 threes per game and 36.3 percent on two-point jumpers, per Hoop-Math.com. Otherwise, he's an explosive attacker and finisher, and he'll guard both forward positions with 6'7", 220-pound size.
Teams may even view his strength and his quickness for an NBA small-ball 4 role. Either way, expect Blossomgame to compete for ACC Player of the Year and win over scouts with scoring versatility and defensive tools.
21. Terrance Ferguson (Adelaide 36ers, SF, 1998)
Terrance Ferguson is averaging 7.4 points on 46.7 percent shooting in 16.9 minutes per game overseas, where he's playing within the Adelaide 36ers offense and taking what the defense gives him.
The main attraction starts with his jumper, which can get hot while connecting from deep or under pressure—he's hit six of his first 14 three-point attempts. Throw in 6'7" size, athleticism and quickness, and he has three-and-D potential for NBA teams to chase, even though he struggles to create shots or pass.
20. Lonzo Ball (UCLA, PG, Freshman)
Lonzo Ball looks poised to pass his way into 2017's top 20. None of the other competing point guards can match his vision; however, it's not just his ability to see the floor that separates him.
A wizard with the rock, Ball can whip it around with full-court outlets and darts that thread the needle. He also possesses the 6'6" size and handle to operate over and through the defense.
But with scoring playmakers becoming the new true point guard in today's NBA, Ball's shooting mechanics, weak mid-range game and skinny frame (190 lbs) raise some concern.
He'll rack up his assists, but don't bank on high field-goal percentages or many 20-point games.
19. Malik Monk (Kentucky, SG, Freshman)
There are some questions concerning Malik Monk's eventual transition to the NBA, though they aren't alarming enough to write him off preseason first-round boards.
An elite leaper, he has the jets to explode above the rim for easy buckets off transition and drives through open lanes. Kentucky's projected top scoring option, he's also developed advanced shot-creating moves around the perimeter with the ability to effortlessly separate into pull-up and step-back jumpers.
But will his athleticism and shooting help compensate for his limited size and length?
At 6'3" in shoes with a short 6'3 ½" wingspan, according to DraftExpress, he'll regularly match up against bigger and longer NBA 2-guards.
Projected offensive inefficiency and defensive inconsistency dent Monk's preseason ranking. Obvious talent and skill secure his top-20 position, though, and make it easier to overlook what could be inconsequential details.
18. Kostja Mushidi (Germany, SG/SF, 1998)
We've only seen flashes from Kostja Mushidi, but he's been captivating.
A strong, athletic 2-guard/wing (6'5", 210 lbs), he's dazzled with flashy dribbling, mid-range shot-creating and three-point shooting. Plus, he competes on defense with high energy while offering the versatility to guard multiple positions.
He's just a ways away from tying everything together.
Erratic from outside and inefficient inside the arc, Mushidi's decision-making, execution and maturity could take a few years to develop.
He might be better off declaring in 2018 after two full seasons of regular reps for Serbian side Mega Leks. But if Mushidi does make himself eligible this June, the continuous glimpses of two-way potential suggest he'll be a worthy first-round draft-and-stash candidate.
17. Tyler Lydon (Syracuse, PF, Sophomore)
It's easy to envision Tyler Lydon in an NBA lineup even if he fails to show significant improvement as a shot manufacturer.
His shooting (40.5 percent from three), athleticism, nose for the ball and energy scream "role-player potential." Lydon won't create; rather, he projects as a complementary stretch 4 who'll score off of spot-up threes, line drives past closeouts, catch-and-finishes and putbacks.
The 6'8" forward reportedly added significant weight over the offseason—head coach Jim Boeheim said he gained 26 pounds, per CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein. That should help with Lydon's rebounding (8.3 per 40 minutes) and physical transition to the NBA power forward position.
Improving his handle and perimeter defense should be individual goals during this expected breakout year.
16. Isaiah Hartenstein (Germany, PF/C, 1998)
NBA radars first picked up Isaiah Hartenstein a few years ago during his time playing Pro B ball in Germany and FIBA tournaments. Though a back injury knocked him out over the summer, scouts got a chance to see him last February during Basketball Without Borders Global Camp in Toronto.
He's now seeing time with Zalgiris in Lithuania, though his minutes have fluctuated through five games.
Strong, 6'11" and highly skilled, Hartenstein plays inside and out with a shooting stroke, face-up game and interior scoring. One general manager told me earlier this summer he thought Hartenstein could rise into top-five discussion.
His feel for the game and defense aren't overly impressive, and he could struggle fitting into a lineup he doesn't feature in. But there is no denying Hartenstein's talent or the potential value that comes with his ability to stretch the floor, score and rebound.
15. Jarrett Allen (Texas, C, Freshman)
NBA teams will covet Jarrett Allen's 6'11" size, mobility and nose for the ball.
He covers both ground and airspace with a 7'5 ½" wingspan and impressive wheels for a big. Coaches will call on him to run the floor, catch-and-finish, crash the glass and protect the rim.
He'll also give his guards a high-percentage target off pick-and-rolls and dump-downs, while offering his lineup a disruptive, interior defensive presence.
He'll never be a scoring option, as he doesn't have any real shot-creating skills or shooting touch. But a team already equipped with offensive weapons could target him as a simple-play center in the mid-first round.
14. Lauri Markkanen (Arizona, PF/C, Freshman)
Lauri Markkanen should grab scouts' attention early with 7-foot size, three-point shooting and immediate production.
His jumper looks like the real deal, and he shot 40.6 percent from deep during 33 FIBA games dating back to 2013.
More than just a spot-up threat, Markkanan has the quickness and agility to attack closeouts with drives and finish on the move. He's also shown the footwork to separate and convert shots over the shoulder in the paint.
He's going to struggle defensively away from the rim, and he won't offer much shot-blocking or protection around it. Considering he's mostly a one-way player and his rebounding numbers haven't been super inspiring over the years, there are questions concerning the height of his ceiling.
On the other hand, Markkanen's offensive game appears poised to translate to the NBA's stretch 4 and 5 positions.
13. Edrice 'Bam' Adebayo (Kentucky, PF/C, Freshman)
Powerful, explosive and lively, Edrice "Bam" Adebayo projects as a high-activity big around the basket. Flashes of post footwork and mid-range touch have been intriguing, but his main appeal stems from the damage he can do as a finisher, rebounder and hustler.
In its offense, Kentucky will ask him to score off transition and dump-downs, crash the glass and protect the rim.
Adebayo looks more like a center in today's NBA given his inability to stretch the floor and handle the ball. Regardless, his physical tools, athleticism and motor are likely to translate in an energy role at the least.
Hitting jumpers and blocking shots could end up carrying Adebayo into this year's top 10.
12. OG Anunoby (Indiana, SF, Sophomore)
A popular breakout candidate following last year's performance during the NCAA tournament, OG Anunoby returns to Indiana with scouts' attention.
His defensive upside stands out first.
At 6'8", 235 pounds, Anunoby has the size, strength and length to battle bigs as well as the quickness and focus to lock down wings and guards—he helped erase No. 7 overall pick Jamal Murray during 2016's March Madness. Teams may show interest in Anunoby as a defensive specialist and energizer regardless of how much improvement he shows offensively.
But he's in position to build on last year's flashes of shooting (13-of-29 from three) and attacking with a bigger role in the Hoosiers offense.
Don't bank on one-on-one scoring or playmaking, but by June, Anunoby should have made enough strides to draw lottery attention with high-end three-and-D potential.
11. Marques Bolden (Duke, C, Freshman)
Injuries to Duke's top two recruits (Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum) give Marques Bolden a better opportunity to make an early impression.
His 6'11", 254-pound size and 7'6" wingspan are already on scouts' radars. Flashing some unexpected skill and impactful rim protection helps propel Bolden into the top-10 discussion.
He'll compete with Texas' Jarrett Allen for the title of No. 1 center in the class, but Bolden has more power and fluidity in the post, where he's shown flashes of jump hooks and spins. Thus, his ceiling appears slightly higher.
He isn't likely to put up giant numbers even with Duke's other star freshmen on the shelf. But if Bolden's offensive game continues catching up to his spectacular tools, an NBA team will get a physical interior scorer and rebounder.
10. Jonathan Isaac (Florida State, SF/PF, Freshman)
"Upside" and "potential" are buzzwords expected to follow Jonathan Isaac all season. He's an athletic, 6'10" forward with the skill set of a 2-guard or wing, and a best-case NBA projection shows a versatile scoring mismatch.
He struggles with contact and will take some time before registering a high percentage from deep, but Isaac's ability to face up, create and knock down threes is rare for a prospect his size.
He'll play minutes at power forward for Florida State (and possibly in the pros), where his quickness will present problems. If Isaac can convince scouts he can permanently make the physical transition to a small-ball 4, he'll give his value a boost.
Expect frequent freshman mistakes mixed with flashes of slashing and both step-back and pull-up shooting that mirror star NBA scorers.
9. Miles Bridges (Michigan State, SF/PF, Freshman)
Miles Bridges brings showtime athleticism and shooting to the wing as well as some power and quickness at power forward. At 6'7", 225 pounds, he'll spend time playing both positions during the course of his career.
His stroke looks clean from behind the arc, and with a solid first step and handle, he can attack closeouts, get to the rim or toss up a floater before hitting traffic.
He'll need to work on creating in the half court, but Bridges' jumper, explosiveness, body and line-drive attacking help buy him time. He's going to erase tweener questions about his skill set for a 3 and size for a big with inside-out versatility.
The 33 points he dropped in Michigan State's first scrimmage is just a sign of what's to come.
8. De'Aaron Fox (Kentucky, PG, Freshman)
De'Aaron Fox brings more flash and athleticism than Kentucky's previous two lead guards (Tyler Ulis, Andrew Harrison). At 6'3", he blends speed, elite quickness and bounce that portend upside at both ends of the floor.
He'll make as much noise defensively as he does running the Wildcats offense; Fox's snapping hands and lightning-quick feet translate to pressure, forced turnovers and steals at the point.
Offensively, he's electric in the open floor and shifty in the half court, where he can shake off the dribble, set the table for teammates or get to the rim and finish with advanced layups.
This ranking could be too low if he shows improved polish and touch as a pull-up scorer and three-point shooter.
7. Frank Ntilikina (France, PG, 1998)
Frank Ntilikina emerged as a top international prospect on my board after I watched him shine during February's Basketball Without Borders Global Camp in Toronto.
He's already off to a hot start with an expanded role for Strasbourg, shooting 62.1 percent and 46.2 percent from three.
Long at 6'5", Ntilikina has strong physical tools with quickness to match, polished ball skills and natural feel. He's a willing distributor and sharp in ball-screen situations as a passer, pull-up scorer and driver. He also projects favorably at the defensive end, where he can apply pressure and disrupt ball-handlers and 2-guards.
As long as his jumper continues to show improvement, Ntilikina should be in the top-five discussion by June.
6. Ivan Rabb (California, PF, Sophomore)
Ivan Rabb returns as the top-ranked non-freshman and a near lock for the 2017 lottery.
Physical tools (6'11", 220 lbs) along with incredible hands, motor and footwork create a high floor for the sophomore big man. At the least, teams should feel good about his potential to finish, rebound and defend at a role-player level.
But flashes of post moves, counters, short-corner face-up drives and mid-range jumpers suggest he has a lot more upside for coaches to unlock.
Rabb should see his usage jump dramatically in 2016-17 without Jaylen Brown, Tyrone Wallace or Jordan Mathews on his roster. He'll have a great opportunity to build on and showcase a more polished scoring attack.
5. Jayson Tatum (Duke, SF, Freshman)
A sprained foot suffered during Duke's pro day won't have any effect on Jayson Tatum's draft evaluation/ranking.
He'll start the year in the top 10, and he's capable of rising with his NBA body and advanced skills. Athletic at 6'8", Tatum's physical tools, ball-handling, shot-creating and jumper fuel high-level scoring potential.
A threat to face up and attack the rim, he's also developed advanced step-backs, pull-ups, jab steps and other moves to separate into jumpers one-on-one.
Will he make his teammates better?
Tatum isn't known for playmaking or passing and hasn't spent much time spot-up shooting off the ball—an area he'll have to develop as he moves from high school to college and the pros.
4. Harry Giles (Duke, PF, Freshman)
Talent alone anchors Harry Giles in the top-five discussion until his health and recovery become clearer. How he looks following knee surgery No. 3, and whether doctors believe there are long-term concerns, will determine whether Giles rises or falls from here.
At full strength, his 6'10" size, 7'3" wingspan, elite athleticism and relentless motor combine to form an ideal big-man foundation. Explosive in transition, powerful inside and a monster on the offensive glass, Giles impacts games without advanced skills.
Flashes of post moves and face-up dribble drives suggest his scoring attack will eventually come together.
Between his defensive versatility and his offensive upside, Giles' potential will tempt teams to bet on his health and durability. Returning to and sustaining a 25-plus-minute role is his ticket toward the top of boards.
3. Dennis Smith Jr. (North Carolina State, PG, Freshman)
Highly athletic, quick and skilled, Dennis Smith Jr. enters his freshman season on a short list of No. 1 overall candidates.
Only questionable shooting range and a 2015 ACL tear keep him from starting the year atop the board. But Smith's knee hasn't raised any concerns during practices, and though he's unlikely to register a strong three-point percentage in 2016-17, there isn't anything alarming about his jumper.
Otherwise, he uses sickening change of speed and direction to break down defenses and create scoring opportunities. Smith is a nightmare to cover off the dribble—both in transition and the half court—with extreme shiftiness and the jets to explode above the rim.
Assuming the knee injury was isolated and fully repaired, only decision-making and shooting inconsistency can hold him back from developing into a premier NBA point guard.
2. Josh Jackson (Kansas, SF, Freshman)
No. 2 isn't even the draft ceiling for Josh Jackson, whose blend of athleticism and versatility sets him apart. He was No. 1 heading into the summer before one of his classmates chose to blow up.
Jackson should earn the title of top two-way player in this draft; Impact defense raises his floor (it reduces risk). Quick and competitive with 6'8" size, he can match up with 4s, lock down wings and contain guard penetration around the perimeter.
Offensively, he's most effective attacking the basket, particularly in transition, but he's improved his handle to the point where he can navigate off the dribble in the half court. Jackson has also flashed impressive passing ability for a wing.
At this stage, he's a capable shooter, not a consistent one, and he lacks polish creating shots one-on-one. But nothing suggests these weaknesses will be permanent.
I'm buying into Jackson sharpening his skills and eventually tying them all together.
1. Markelle Fultz (Washington, PG, Freshman)
The rise is real with Markelle Fultz, who suddenly looks like the most complete guard in his class and just the type NBA teams want running their offense.
A scoring playmaker with shooting range, strong IQ and quick defensive instincts, there isn't a box Fultz doesn't check: He's 6'4" and packs enough bounce to explode for dunks in traffic. With the ability to create shots for himself—both as a driver and a shooter—and hit the tough ones, he's flashed the potential to score in bunches and take over stretches of games.
Fultz has demonstrated strong passing instincts as well as the willingness to prioritize facilitating and get his teammates involved.
A good bet to finish as one the Pac-12's biggest thieves, thanks to quick feet and aggressive hands, Fultz projects as a two-way player and a skilled, mature lead guard. He'll likely turn the ball over too much while dominating it at Washington, and his three-ball could flicker. But it's tough to find a hole in his game worth dwelling over.
By June, he'll go down as a low-risk, high-reward prospect every top-five team covets, regardless of who's already in its backcourt.