2017 NBA Draft Big Board: How Prospects Stack Up Entering New Year
After a shaky start, one of the top prospects in the nation has found a rhythm and catapulted himself to No. 2 in the rankings. Two freshmen have also broken into the top 20.
The general feeling about this class is that it's strong, particularly in terms of potential star power in the lottery. With conference play underway, now is the time scouts zoom in a bit closer with their microscopes.
No. 50-No. 46
50. P.J. Dozier (South Carolina, SG, 6'6", Sophomore)
Dozier has hit the 20-point mark in five of South Carolina's last seven games, opening eyes with his athleticism, shot-making and ball-handling. Already with 23 three-pointers (44.2 percent) after sinking just 10 as a freshman, Dozier, a 6'6" guard, has suddenly become a sleeper prospect to track.
49. Zach Collins (Gonzaga, C, 7'0", Freshman)
Collins averages 11 points in 17.1 minutes per game and has only missed more than two shots during a game once all season. Skilled with 7'0" size, mobility and basketball IQ, Collins is already an impact player in college. He's looking like a first-round name to watch in 2018 if he returns with a jumper.
48. Jordan Bell (Oregon, PF, 6'9", Junior)
Bell had a strong game in Oregon's wild win over UCLA on Wednesday night, flashing athleticism and activity at the rim. NBA teams could see working him in an energizer role. He doesn't have any signature offensive skill, but his knack for making plays without needing any run could be his calling.
47. Dwayne Bacon (Florida State, SG/SF, 6'7", Sophomore)
Bacon passes the eye test at 6'7", 221 pounds. He not only looks the part of an NBA wing but has the athleticism and skill set to match. Yet without any playmaking ability or defensive upside, his chances of becoming a pro will ride on his jumper. He's capable from every spot on the floor, but a 34.5 percent clip from college's closer downtown won't cut it.
46. Chimezie Metu (USC, C, 6'11", Sophomore)
Long and athletic, Metu looks to have made key strides with his shooting touch, having hit 75.8 percent of his free throws (up from 51.3 percent) and 28 of 52 two-point jump shots, per Hoop-Math.com. He's still too raw and weak to call him a first-rounder, but that could change in 2018.
No. 45-No. 41
45. Lagerald Vick (Kansas, SG, 6'5", Sophomore)
With Frank Mason III and Devonte' Graham running the show, Vick's touches and playmaking freedom are limited. He'll be a breakout prospect to watch in 2018 based on his defensive length and quickness, three-ball (18-of-39) and slashing.
44. Edmond Sumner (Xavier, PG, 6'5", Sophomore)
Sumner's size and athleticism should keep him afloat in the draft discussion. But until he fixes his jumper (28.6 percent from three), the second round will be a more reasonable landing range, even if his defense and transition game can be effective in the NBA.
43. Jawun Evans (Oklahoma State, PG, 6'1", Sophomore)
Evans excites with flashy ball-handling, playmaking and scoring. But at 6'1", he lacks explosiveness around the basket and convincing three-point range (only 2.3 attempts per game). His ability to break down defenses and create open looks are his most appealing strengths.
42. Devonte' Graham (Kansas, PG, 6'2", Junior)
Graham's skills are strong, and he's tough, but his lack of explosiveness for a 6'2" guard hurts his first-round chances. He'll have an opportunity to win a backup role with his ball-handling, facilitating, money jumper (career 41.8 percent from three) and feisty defense.
41. Justin Jackson (North Carolina, SF, 6'8", Junior)
Jackson put himself back into the first-round discussion following his 34-point explosion against Kentucky on Dec. 17. He's now shooting 40.7 percent from deep and averaging a career-best three assists per game. Jackson isn't a shot creator and isn't likely to add much defensively, but his jumper, passing and ability to score within the offense create role-player potential.
No. 40-No. 36
40. Thomas Bryant (Indiana, PF, 6'10", Sophomore)
Bryant's three-ball (nine makes) has been a bigger threat, but otherwise, his game hasn't changed this season. He isn't an explosive athlete and lacks two-point scoring skills. NBA teams could still value his tools and passion in an energy role that asks him to finish, clean up inside and occasionally knock down open jumpers.
39. Alec Peters (Valparaiso, PF, 6'9", Senior)
Averaging 25 points per game, Peters is the nation's third-leading scorer and projects as a shot-maker. Athletic limitations will make it tough for his entire offensive repertoire to translate. It's also difficult to envision him guarding NBA bigs or explosive wings. But Peters' jumper (258 career three-pointers, 41.7 percent) and basketball IQ could still hold pro value in a supporting role.
38. Luke Kennard (Duke, SG, 6'6", Sophomore)
Kennard has broken out with skills the NBA always covets, scoring 20.4 points per game. He's proved to be a creative passer and capable playmaker as well as a knockdown shooter (2.5 threes per game, 42.7 percent) both off the catch and dribble. Whether he can defend NBA guards will be the question, as Kennard lacks quickness and strength. His shot-making and basketball IQ could still earn him first-round looks by the right teams.
37. Tony Bradley (North Carolina, PF/C, 6'10", Freshman)
Bradley has been quiet against ranked opponents with just five total field goals against Indiana, Wisconsin and Kentucky. Otherwise, he's given North Carolina activity and an efficient target around the basket. Averaging 22.1 points and a whopping 15 rebounds per 40 minutes, Bradley's low-post game, 7'4" wingspan and instincts have served him well. There isn't much upside, and he doesn't offer any rim protection, but he's made a decent case as a potential backup big in the pros.
36. Cameron Oliver (Nevada, PF, 6'8", Sophomore)
Oliver could fly under the radar all season at Nevada. He shouldn't, given his explosive athleticism and newfound shooting stroke, which he's using to hit 1.9 threes per game at a 42.9 percent clip. His three blocks per contest also highlight his defensive upside and activity. NBA teams may hesitate to buy Oliver as first-round material since he plays in the Mountain West, but he won't last long on the board once Round 2 starts.
No. 35-No. 31
35. Frank Jackson (Duke, PG/SG, 6'3", Freshman)
Jackson is more of a 2-guard with a point guard's body, but that shouldn't matter in an NBA role off the bench. An accurate shooter (38.3 percent from three) with strength and hops, Jackson's jumper, athleticism and tools to defend ball-handlers could be enough for him to stick.
34. Aaron Holiday (UCLA, PG, 6'1", Sophomore)
Lonzo Ball has absorbed most of the credit for UCLA's success, but don't sleep on Holiday, who's averaging 20.9 points, 6.9 assists and 2.3 steals per 40 minutes. He's more quick and smooth than explosive, and at 6'1", he lacks great size. But his playmaking and shooting (29 of 58 from three) are raising eyebrows. He'll just need to cut down on the turnovers (3.8 per 40 minutes).
33. Josh Hart (Villanova, SG, 6'6", Senior)
Arguably the National Player of the Year favorite as conference play kicks off, Hart has improved every aspect of his game: from his shooting to his shot-creating and playmaking. Averaging 20.5 points, 3.5 assists and 2.1 threes per game for the country's No. 1 team, he's doing everything in his power to maximize his stock. Average athleticism holds him back, but it wouldn't be shocking to see Hart succeed in the pros the way rookie Malcolm Brogdon has for the Milwaukee Bucks.
32. Arnoldas Kulboka (Lithuania, SF, 6'9", 1998)
Kulboka's strengths and weaknesses were easy to detect during the U18 European Championship. He finished with at least 24 points in three games and fewer than 10 in his three others. Kulboka has a beautiful jumper, effortless range and the ability to catch fire. But he's thin and struggles with physicality. Outside of shooting and driving, he doesn't offer much playmaking or defense.
31. Jaron Blossomgame (Clemson, SF/PF, 6'7", Senior)
Blossomgame's jumper won't fall, but he's still averaging 17.3 points on 48.1 percent shooting. He's making 57.3 percent of his two-point attempts—a tribute to his athleticism and scoring versatility. A tough driver, explosive finisher and capable post player with one-handed touch, Blossomgame is just a consistent three-ball away. The only problem: He'll turn 24 years old before his rookie season.
No. 30-No. 26
30. Shake Milton (SMU, PG, 6'6", Sophomore)
Milton only averages 11.8 points per game, and NBA teams are likely to tell him to return for a breakout junior year. But his 6'6" size, ball-handling and shooting stroke are attractive in terms of future NBA potential. Milton hits two threes per game (38.4 percent), and though his 3.8 assists per contest aren't overwhelming, he isn't given the freedom to dominate the ball and create. With a brighter green light, he'll have the chance to go in the first round in 2018.
29. T.J. Leaf (UCLA, PF, 6'10", Freshman)
Despite Leaf's terrific numbers—specifically 17.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game on 65.7 percent shooting—physical and athletic limitations cloud his NBA outlook. Defense will be a major challenge. His ball-handling, passing, shot-making, scoring instincts and energy are still worth first-round consideration. If he can keep knocking down threes (16-of-33), tracking down loose balls and finding open teammates, Leaf should have a chance to carve out a career as a role-playing offensive specialist.
28. Marques Bolden (Duke, C, 6'11", Freshman)
Bolden's stock is slipping as he struggles to justify playing time on one of the deepest teams in the country. His physical tools—6'11", 245-pound size and a 7'6" wingspan—are still worth drafting in the first round. There is some offensive upside tied to his strength, length and back-to-the-basket game. But no jumper or notable defensive instincts hurt his value in today's NBA.
27. Edrice "Bam" Adebayo (Kentucky, C, 6'10", Freshman)
Adebayo averages 13.5 points per game without many offensive skills. NBA teams won't be expecting a post scorer or shooter. He'll draw first-round looks for his tools and athleticism, which translate to easy finishes, rebounds and weakside blocks. He'll wind up playing an energizer role in the NBA; improving his pick-and-roll defense should help him earn more minutes once he gets to the pros.
26. Jarrett Allen (Texas, C, 6'11", Freshman)
Allen's lack of explosiveness and offensive versatility are concerns when projecting his NBA ceiling. His size, 7'5½" wingspan and mobility should still generate first-round interest, though. With some over-the-shoulder and mid-range touch, he's also shown he can be more than just a finisher. Per Hoop-Math.com, Allen has made 26 of his 51 two-point jumpers, which accounts for 15-footers and hooks around the key.
No. 25-No. 21
25. Tyler Lydon (Syracuse, PF, 6'9", Sophomore)
Lydon has finally gotten going, averaging 19.3 points per contest over Syracuse's last four games. Shooting 44.2 percent from deep, he has athleticism and a jumper that create first-round upside. But he hasn't added anything to his game, and his 12.8 rebounding percentage, per Sports-Reference.com, is poor. Can he impact a contest if his three-ball isn't falling?
24. Johnathan Motley (Baylor, PF, 6'9", Junior)
Motley has been consistent, having scored at least 15 points in nine of his 12 games. He uses his 7'3½" wingspan around the hoop as well as polished post footwork when he plays with his back to the basket. With improved shooting touch (67.8 percent on free throws), passing (2.2 assists per game) and rebounding numbers (12.8 per 40 minutes), Motley has emerged as a first-round sleeper.
23. Rodions Kurucs (Latvia, SF, 6'8", 1998)
Kurucs had his best game of the year for Barcelona's second team on Wednesday, shooting 8-of-12 for 20 points in 17.3 minutes. An athletic 6'8" wing, Kurucs' size, fluidity, shooting stroke and slashing ability stand out as translatable strengths and skills. It wouldn't be surprising if he chose to return next year and hope for minutes with Barcelona's senior team. He'll have a better shot at going in the lottery as a 19-year-old.
22. Terrance Ferguson (Adelaide 36ers, SF, 6'7", 1998)
Ferguson has held his own in Australia's National Basketball League. A teenager among pros, he plays within the offense and takes what the defense gives him. He doesn't create his own shot, but he's made 15 of 41 three-pointers with a smooth jumper that's easy to buy into. Between his tools, athleticism and shooting range, Ferguson's three-and-D potential will help him draw first-round looks regardless of how little he produces this year.
21. Hamidou Diallo (Putnam Science, SG, 6'5", 1998)
Diallo, who graduated high school last June and will be eligible for the 2017 draft, is visiting schools and looking to join one for the second semester, according to 247Sports' Jerry Meyer. An exciting athlete, the NBA lens picks up his explosiveness, budding offensive game and defensive potential. Assuming he heads to college for a few months and declares, he'll have to answer questions about his effort and show his skills are improving.
20. Omer Yurtseven (North Carolina State, C, 7'0", Freshman)
Omer Yurtseven has caught on quickly after missing the first nine games of the year (NCAA suspension).
Yurtseven, who stands 7'0" and weighs 245 pounds, moves well and has showcased soft hands around the basket, making him a high-percentage target in the paint. He's coming off a 16-point game against Rider on Wednesday.
Yurtseven has also looked confident and fluid with his jumper. He hit a three-pointer against Appalachian State during his debut (Dec. 15) and a handful of other mid-range shots since. His passing (three assists per 40 minutes) has stood out as well.
He could certainly stand to get tougher—Yurtseven isn't a physical rebounder (9.6 per 40 minutes) and only has one block in 92 minutes. But his mobility, offensive finesse and touch at his size could be enough.
19. Kostja Mushidi (Germany, SG, 6'5", 1998)
Kostja Mushidi looks the part but has had his struggles being efficient.
Shooting just 36.7 percent for Mega Vizura this year, he wasn't too much better last week at the U18 European Championships, where he shot 42.3 percent. But the production has been there—Mushidi averaged 14.7 points and 3.8 assists per game at the U18s, and that's without help from his jumper, as he missed on 34 of 42 three-point attempts.
Nonetheless, Mushidi can make shots from outside. He's connected on 1.9 threes per game at a respectable 34.4 percent clip between Adriatic League play and the Basketball Champions League.
He's still at his best attacking, and he's shown promising playmaking and defensive potential. With NBA tools and athleticism, plus plenty of two-way versatility, it's worth a first-round pick to see if Mushidi can sharpen his overall game.
18. Justin Patton (Creighton, PF/C, 7'0", Freshman)
Justin Patton has gone from outside the top 50 to inside the top 20.
He might not even be done rising.
He's captivated with skills and versatility for an athletic 7-footer, and though a lack of strength will cloud the scouting report, he doesn't turn 20 years old until June.
Patton has been an easy-bucket machine, shooting a ridiculous 74.2 percent with an incredible 31 dunks through 13 games, according to Rob Anderson, Creighton's sports information director. The redshirt freshman has also developed impressive footwork in the paint, as well as the handle to attack closeouts, elude defenders and make plays on the move as a scorer or passer.
With four three-pointers, he's shown some shooting range as well, though a 47.2 percent clip from the line says to hold off from buying into his jumper.
Patton is vulnerable to getting overpowered, and he brings in only 14.2 percent of available rebounds, per Sports-Reference.com. But his tools, offensive flashes and shot-blocking have become too intriguing.
17. Ike Anigbogu (UCLA, C, 6'10", Freshman)
Though blatantly raw without any translatable offensive skills, Ike Anigbogu won't need them. He'll let his athleticism, quick feet and long arms do the talking.
Averaging 11.4 boards and five blocks per 40 minutes while shooting 63.9 percent from the floor, Anigbogu finishes, rebounds and protects the rim. He has the chance to be elite in all three areas.
His quickness also shows up in pick-and-roll coverage, an important strength that bumps up his value.
He's coming off a 4-of-4, nine-point game in 11 minutes against Oregon on Wednesday. In a few years, Anigbogu should be able to give an NBA team activity and defense in the paint—even if his post game never catches up.
16. Robert Williams (Texas A&M, PF, 6'9", Freshman)
Though raw and without a particular skill to hang his hat on, Robert Williams' tools and productivity are enticing.
At 6'9", 237 pounds with a giant 7'4" wingspan, he's powerful, long and explosive around the basket. Per 40 minutes, Williams is averaging 20.5 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.8 blocks per game. Shooting 62.2 percent, he finishes strong around the rim and has flashed a jump hook and mid-range touch (22 of 27 free throws).
At this stage of his development, he's still mostly an off-ball big and not one coaches can feature or feed in the post. But someone will draft him in the first round for his athleticism, rim protection and offensive potential.
15. Isaiah Hartenstein (Germany, PF/C, 7'0", 1998)
The arrow is pointing up for Isaiah Hartenstein, who's coming off a strong U18 European Championships (14.7 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game).
Considering he'd been struggling to find minutes with Zalgiris, the tournament came at a good time. Hartenstein reminded scouts of his athleticism and unique versatility.
A strong 7-footer, he's also light on his feet. Hartenstein played angry around the rim last week in Turkey, where he finished through and over defenders. But he also showed off his finesse game: drives into runners, shooting touch and tremendous passing ability.
Hartenstein will have to learn how to fit in and contribute when he's not the featured option. He's just too skilled for a giant with an inside-out game suited for today's NBA.
14. Miles Bridges (Michigan State, SF/PF, 6'7", Freshman)
Questions concerning Miles Bridges' NBA fitness keep him outside the top 10. After that, the potential reward becomes worth the risk.
You won't find many athletes more explosive; Bridges racks up easy buckets off drives, putbacks and transition.
His ball skills need work, however. He turns it over 4.2 times per 40 minutes and doesn't get to the line (four times per 40) nearly as much as he should for an athletic 230-pounder. Unless he improves his handles in traffic and under pressure, he'll likely play small-ball 4 in the pros, where he can best exploit his quickness and stretch the floor as a threatening shot-maker.
Bridges is only 6'7", though, and despite shooting 38.5 percent from three, he has a 53.8 percent mark from the line that makes it difficult to fully buy into his jumper. Bridges could fall into the boom-or-bust category come draft time.
13. Ivan Rabb (California, PF/C, 6'11", Sophomore)
Ivan Rabb has been quiet, finishing with single-digit point totals in four of California's last six games.
It's still early to worry about stalled development, but once conference play heats up, he'll be expected to dominate more frequently. Rabb clearly has NBA tools and sound fundamentals: He's hit the 25-point mark twice this year, which offers confirmation he can take over offensively.
Rabb compensates for a lack of explosiveness and strength with sharp footwork in the post. Up-and-unders, drop-steps, spin moves and fallaways are all in the arsenal. And in doses, he's shown he's comfortable stepping out and knocking down mid-range to short-corner jumpers.
He'll still need to give California a more consistent source of scoring to avoid the "less exciting energizer" label come draft time.
12. OG Anunoby (Indiana, SF, 6'8", Sophomore)
OG Anunoby hasn't shown off anything particularly new, but from a scouting perspective, there is still a lot to like about his tools, athleticism, shot-making and room to improve.
Defensive-specialist potential helps reduce the perceived risk tied to his raw offensive game. At the least, it's easy to buy into the idea that Anunoby's quickness and length will translate to lockdown pressure and versatility. He's big and long enough to cover small-ball 4s with enough foot speed to contain or even lock down guards and wings. The steals and blocks should carry over as well, given his motor and bounce around the rim.
Offensively, he's already matched last year's three-point total (13). Shooting 74.4 percent inside the arc, he's also efficiently picking up buckets within the offense by opportunistically driving when given space or cutting for catch-and-finish opportunities.
Anunoby doesn't project as a scorer or creator, but he won't need to be, especially if he lands on a veteran team that lets him play to his strengths.
11. Harry Giles III (Duke, PF, 6'10", Freshman)
It's tough to take much away from Harry Giles III's 10 minutes through two games. Before his debut last week, his last action came in November 2015.
Giles will need time to build comfort and confidence.
The question is whether he'll have the opportunity moving forward at Duke, where Jayson Tatum and Amile Jefferson have become must-play bigs. Jumping into the lineup midway through the season on a deep title contender—having missed the past 12 months and only played two full seasons since 2012—isn't ideal.
10. Lauri Markkanen (Arizona, PF/C, 7'0", Freshman)
A 7-footer with shooting range and ball-handling skills, Lauri Markkanen has quickly emerged as a no-brainer lottery option.
There is a divide when it comes to projecting and valuing his NBA draft potential, though. I've heard "top-five," "special" and "stud" but also Channing Frye comparisons, specifically from a general manager who questioned Markkanen's upside.
He's recorded two or fewer two-point field goals in eight of Arizona's 14 games. But he's also averaging two threes per game and shooting 41.8 percent from behind the arc.
Markkanen has a sweet stroke and enough handles to attack closeouts with the dribble. Still, his 9.4 rebounds per 40 minutes and nine total blocks through 449 minutes aren't great signs. His ceiling can surpass Frye's, though Markkanen should still be valued as more of an offensive, shot-making specialist—not a future star.
9. Frank Ntilikina (France, PG, 6'5", 1998)
Frank Ntilikina strengthened his 2017 draft case in December with an MVP showing at the U18 European Championships.
In terms of draft stock, it was a game-changer, given the fact Ntilikina only averaged 15 minutes per game (against pros) between Ligue Nationale de Basket Pro A and the Basketball Champions League. He had done a fine job, shooting 48.7 percent and capitalizing off the ball. But he had the opportunity this past week while running the France offense in Turkey to showcase scoring and playmaking ability that's been tougher to detect during Strasbourg IG games.
He averaged 15.2 points and 4.5 assists per game and finished with 23 points and nine dimes against Italy in the semis before hanging 31 points on Lithuania in the finals.
Throw in 17-of-29 shooting on threes and suffocating perimeter defense, and Ntilikina's well-rounded performance could have moved the needle in this year's draft discussion.
8. De'Aaron Fox (Kentucky, PG, 6'3", Freshman)
Projecting to the NBA, De'Aaron Fox's playmaking looks highly convincing. His 6.8 assists per game are an accurate reflection of his ability to create scoring chances with breakdown penetration and transition offense.
A crafty pick-and-roll facilitator, and also quick and athletic in space, Fox's knack for setting the table should carry over to the more open NBA game.
Defenses can't stay in front of him. Even with every opponent knowing he prefers attacking over shooting, Fox consistently gets to the basket, where he's scored 51 of his 71 total field goals, per Hoop-Math.com. He finishes using short floaters, coordination and bounce.
Fox's perimeter game isn't nearly as reliable. Hitting 27.6 percent of his two-point jumpers and 14.3 percent of his threes (4-of-28), Fox is getting away with inconsistent shooting. He'll need it to score in the 15- to 20-point range at the NBA level.
7. Malik Monk (Kentucky, SG, 6'3", Freshman)
There is still some excitement in the air from Malik Monk's 47-point game against North Carolina on Dec. 17. It confirmed his elite shot-making skills. Monk obviously has deep range (3.4 three-pointers per game) and the ability to knock down all kinds of shots off the dribble—jumpers he can create for himself by separating using advanced step-back footwork and great elevation on his pull-up.
He went off again Thursday night against Ole Miss, finishing with 34 points on 16 shots.
Because of his knack for hitting tough looks, Monk has established himself as one of those players who can't be guarded once he's found a rhythm and confidence. Between his perimeter game and open-floor athleticism, he'll find ways to put points on the board at every level.
The fact he leans so heavily on shooting and transition, though, raises questions about his potential to stay efficient. Of his 36 field goals at the rim, 31 have come within the first 10 seconds of the shot clock, per Hoop-Math.com. Of the other five, only two were unassisted, and one was a putback. He's driven to the basket and finished at the rim just once in the half court all season.
Monk's three-ball was off (1-of-9) against Louisville on Dec. 21, and he wound up failing to make much of an impact in a three-point loss. Improving his ball-handling and playmaking should undoubtedly sit atop the priority list for the next few seasons.
6. Lonzo Ball (UCLA, PG, 6'6", Freshman)
Lonzo Ball has already sold everyone on his passing, IQ and gamer reputation. He's regularly made big second-half plays and consistently shown off his vision, which has led to 8.1 assists per game and quality scoring chances for UCLA.
Lethal three-point shooting has been the big surprise with Ball, who's drilling 2.4 a game at a 43.4 percent clip as he continues to extinguish the doubt that hovers over his odd shot mechanics. Hitting jumpers from a couple of feet behind the arc, he's compensating for those strange fundamentals with shot-making confidence.
His overall scoring attack isn't as believable, though. Ball is missing a mid-range game and floater. Layups, dunks and three-pointers make up 66 of his 67 field goals, per Hoop-Math.com.
Yet there are still bound to be general managers who are willing to overlook the details for Ball's potential to make others better.
5. Jayson Tatum (Duke, SF, 6'8", Freshman)
Polished with nifty footwork, ball-handling and shot-making, Jayson Tatum has already put together some impressive highlight films. Averaging 15.4 points per through five games, he's shown a penchant for creating shots with pull-ups, step-backs, jab steps and fallaways.
Tatum doesn't jump out as super explosive, though. Shooting just 39.7 percent, he has come up short of the hoop on drives and been denied at the rim.
But his scoring versatility and one-on-one game are undeniably advanced, and at 6'8" with long arms, it's easy to envision his offense working at the NBA level. Since he won't be featured as a rookie, Tatum can improve his spot-up three-ball to make for a smoother transition from college to the pros.
He should stick around the No. 2-to-No. 6 range from now until the draft.
4. Jonathan Isaac (Florida State, SF/PF, 6'10", Freshman)
Ranking Jonathan Isaac in the top five means expecting him to make a big jump after a year or two in the league.
Compared to Duke's Jayson Tatum, Isaac is more of a project, but his 6'10" size and shooting range are better suited to the NBA. Playing the 4, he's making 1.4 threes per game and holding his own around the basket, converting 65.4 percent of his two-point attempts and grabbing 11.6 boards per 40 minutes.
Ball-handling and face-up shot creativity have jumped out as the most unique aspects of his game. He's shown he can swoop through traffic to the rack or separate into pull-up jumpers—rare skills for a forward as big as Isaac.
He's been effective defensively as well, particularly around the perimeter, where Isaac has done a good job of switching and containing dribble penetration. I wouldn't bank on consistent production during conference play, but I also don't expect that to matter when projecting Isaac five years down the road.
3. Josh Jackson (Kansas, SF, 6'8", Freshman)
Josh Jackson may not be first on the majority of NBA draft boards, but chances are he's in the top five on all of them.
Convincing athleticism, tools, motor, IQ and production (14.7 points per game on 51.4 percent) help create a high floor—Jackson comes off as safe. You get the impression he'll bring something in the form of defense, passing energy or transition offense even if his jumper or ball skills struggle to take off.
But flashes of pull-up scoring, driving and playmaking suggest there is plenty more offensive upside. He's improved his ball-handling in tight spaces, leading to 3.1 assists per game, which also highlight impressive vision. And though not an advanced shot creator, he's shown he can attack out of the triple-threat position and convert around the key with runners and floaters.
Jackson's perimeter game needs work, as he's shooting 7-of-26 from three with mechanics that don't appear built for range. Until that's improved, scoring in volume in the NBA will be a challenge.
2. Dennis Smith Jr. (North Carolina State, PG, 6'3", Freshman)
You can actually see Dennis Smith Jr.'s confidence build with every made jumper. He's hit 12 threes over his last three games, and though it's likely just a hot streak, concerns about his shooting potential are fading.
So are questions about his surgically repaired knee. Smith's exploding off dribble hesitation and leaps in the paint, where he's effortlessly dunking and hanging in the air after contact.
His signature strength still remains an ability to put pressure on the basket and defense, but now he's making pull-ups from around the arc and punishing defenses for sagging under screens.
Coming off a 16-assist performance against Rider on Wednesday, Smith is quietly building momentum with flashes of well-rounded point guard play. Along with Josh Jackson, he's one of two players capable of challenging Washington's Markelle Fultz for the No. 1 spot.
1. Markelle Fultz (Washington, PG, 6'4", Freshman)
Markelle Fultz started the year at No. 1 and isn't likely to budge.
Inconsistent defensive effort has been a slight turnoff, but not to the point where it takes away from his scoring, playmaking and NBA tools/athleticism.
Averaging 22 points per game (second among freshmen behind Malik Monk) on 50.5 percent shooting, he is scoring from all three levels, having converted 38 shots at the rim (59.4 percent), 36 two-point jumpers (45.6 percent) and 22 threes (46.8 percent), per Hoop-Math.com. Fultz separates with fancy ball-handling, changes of speed and footwork—always keeping his man a half-step behind.
He's had no problems getting good shots off and clearly no trouble making them.
Between his jumper and improvisation around the lane, Fultz is easily the most complete scorer among the top prospects. His distributing isn't far behind: Dishing out 6.3 assists a game, he is an excellent passer with the vision and ability to break down defenses and set the table for teammates.
A 6'9¾" wingspan, quick feet and bounce create room for optimism regarding his potential to improve defensively. The Philadelphia 76ers and Dallas Mavericks should be salivating at the chance to land their new franchise lead guard.