Now that the NFL Draft is over, a nation turns its lonely eye towards the NBA Draft (although the MLB Draft is before it, so maybe the eye is on that too). While there will be hundreds of places with mock drafts, this is a big board, meaning purely a ranking of the available prospects without taking needs into account. Although I will say needs semi need to be taken into account anyway because a prospect drafted onto a team where he is a better fit is going to probably have a better career than a “better” prospect who is drafted on a team with a worse fit.
The plan is to release one of these after the NBA Draft combine and then another just before the draft, although the rankings probably will not change a ton except for guys who we don’t really have a lot of tape on (e.g. Dragan Bender). Speaking of Bender, you’ll note I have not ranked any European guys other than Bender because I haven’t seen them play, even on YouTube. I will add them as I get more comfortable, however.
1. Ben Simmons, Freshman Forward, LSU
There has been a lot of talk that maybe Duke swingman Brandon Ingram is the guy here, but I am still on Team Simmons for a few reasons. His LSU experience obviously didn’t go great, but in his defense he also was barely ever put in a position to succeed by his coaches and teammates. He can be unselfish to a fault at times, and maybe because of that he never becomes a true #1 type go to guy, but he can turn into the best version of Draymond Green possible, and Green is possibly the best power forward in the league right now.
Of course, to do that he needs to improve defensively. From watching him, it looks more like an effort issue and maybe a bit of an awareness issue rather than anything to do with his physical talents. When he gets in a stance and gets after it, you can certainly see the potential for him to be a good defender, and one who can guard multiple positions.
The other red flag is his inability to shoot. He attempted just three 3-pointers last season, and shot poorly on jumpers in general. Some guys can fix the lack of a jumper in college, and some can’t. Based on his touch around the rim and his ability to do basically everything else well, I think Simmons can improve his jumper at least to the point where it has to be taken seriously, even if it is never one of his main weapons. Still, Simmons’ versatility, ability to handle the ball, and the potential for him to be a matchup nightmare every night in the NBA puts him at #1 for me.
2. Brandon Ingram, Freshman Forward, Duke
The only red flag on Ingram as of now is that he weighs probably 75 pounds. Other than that, he stands 6-9 but has a wingspan of 7-3 according to his measurements at the Nike Hoop Summit, and offensively sure looks to have a pretty complete game. He shot it well from the outside (41 percent from three on 195 attempts) and also used his size (well, height anyway) to post up shorter defenders and score over them inside. He is also a good ball handler, especially considering how ridiculously long his arms are. Add it together and you have another versatile offensive player at the top of the draft, although he does need to improve around the rim.
Still, Ingram looks to legitimately have Kevin Durant type upside, and if nothing else can become a versatile offensive player who can pass well, score in the midrange, at the rim, and be a legitimate catch and shoot threat from deep. I have Simmons a hair above Ingram, but certainly wouldn’t argue with anyone arguing the opposite.
3. Dragan Bender, PF, Maccabi Tel Aviv
Bender has been known for awhile, but really burst onto the scene last June at the 2015 Eurocamp, where he was named MVP. Bender measured just under 7 feet (without shoes) and had a standing reach of 9-3 at that camp, so there’s no mystery why he is getting Kristaps Porzingis comps. Obviously I don’t have as much opportunity to watch Tel Aviv as I do to watch LSU, Duke, Oklahoma, etc. so I can’t be as certain in my Bender take as with some of the other guys in the top 10, but I can say that he is a very fluid athlete (if not a great one) who can handle the ball well and has the ability to develop into a good shooter. Putting those skills into a 7 foot frame will certainly tempt a GM early.
4. Kris Dunn, Junior Guard, Providence
Dunn backed up a stellar sophomore season, in which he led the nation in assist rate, with a stellar junior season in which he finished 5th while cutting his turnovers down by nearly a fifth. He also worked on his jumper, increasing the number of threes he took to 113 last season, and he shot over 37 percent from deep. He was one of the best ballhawking defenders and one of the best at drawing fouls in the entire country. The lone knock against him is that sometimes he forced the issue a bit too much on offense, which results in quite a few ill advised shots and turnovers, but I think that is more of a function of Dunn’s role in the Providence offense and the lack of help on the perimeter than anything else. If the jump shot improvements don’t stick, he could be more of an average guard, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in an all star game soon either.
5. Buddy Hield, Senior Guard, Oklahoma
From here on out, fit becomes paramount. Hield had a tough end to his college career, and he probably won’t ever be a plus defender or passer, but teams should be lining up to draft the best shooter in the draft. Hield shot 46 percent from three on an insane 322 attempts. He took them off the dribble, off step backs, off catch and shoot attempts from every forseeable angle and spot on the floor. He has improved his ball handling and his ability to get to the rim, and it’s clear that if something stops him from being a productive pro, it won’t be his work ethic. The one real concern is maybe the need for a lot of screens to get open will limit offensive opportunities for his teammates, but Hield’s shooting will be such a weapon for stretching the floor that teams will certainly overlook it.
6. Jakob Poeltl, Sophomore Center, Utah
I probably have Poeltl higher than most people and I think part of that is due to potential questions about how Poeltl fits in in today’s NBA. He doesn’t have much of an offensive game outside of a few feet and it is tough to spend a lottery pick on a guy who isn’t much use on one end of the floor. Then again, everyone had Jahlil Okafor rated high last year so who knows. Defensively, though, Poeltl is a potential game changer. He is a great rim protector and has certainly improved his ability to guard smaller guys on switches. If he improves his offensive game at all, he’s a legit top 5 pick.
7. Jaylen Brown, Freshman Forward, Cal
Physically, Jalen Brown is incredibly imposing. He can guard multiple positions, is tall, has a great frame, and is super athletic. But his offensive game leaves a lot to be desired. He doesn’t shoot it well, he doesn’t rebound, and he isn’t a great passer. I will defer the rest of my analysis to Kyle Neubeck at Upside Motor, who basically says everything I want to but in 2,000 more words.
8. Skal Labissiere, Freshman Forward, Kentucky
Right around now is where we get into a risk/reward analysis. Labissiere struggled for much of his college career, and even his bright spots weren’t incredibly bright. He also finished his college career by getting manhandled by a good but not great Indiana frontline. Still, Labissiere can step out and knock down a 15 footer, and probably will be able to extend his range farther back. And he still is just under 7 foot with a 9 foot standing reach. He became a good shotblocker over the course of the year, and assuming he gets a lot stronger I don’t have an issue with a team taking him in the top 10.
9. Henry Ellenson, Freshman Forward, Marquette
Ellenson wasn’t seen much by the basketball public this season due to playing on a non tournament team in the Big East. But when people were able to catch him they were able to see a good low post player, and one who can step out and put the ball on the floor and also show off a good jumper. He shot under 30 percent on 3-pointers, but his efficiency at the free throw line and in the mid range lead me to believe he has the potential to step outside and be a reliable 3-point shooter in his career. Defensively he has some issues, as he hasn’t been very good in the pick and roll, and that is obviously a death sentence in today’s NBA.
10. Demetrius Jackson, Junior Guard, Notre Dame
You could conceivably have Jackson higher or lower than this depending on what you think of his 3-point shooting. Jackson’s 3-point shooting dipped to around 33 percent this season, but given that he is almost a 40 percent shooter over three seasons at Notre Dame, I am comfortable writing that off as a sample size issue. Jackson is one of the best pure athletes in the draft, as you can see in this hammer dropped on Stephen F. Austin. He wasn’t a great passer, but a 25 percent assist rate is good enough for a guy playing point guard for the first time, and he’s a good enough shooter and scorer to overcome any deficiencies in that area.
11. Jamal Murray, Freshman Guard, Kentucky
Murray had a prolific year at Kentucky, averaging around 20 ppg, shooting over 40 percent on 3-pointers, and over 50 percent on twos. He was really good in catch and shoot threes, both spotting up and coming off screens, and he could shoot and score off the dribble as well. However, that’s sort of where his positives stop. Scoring is the most important thing you can do on a basketball court, but I think to get picked more towards the top 5 where he is being mocked you need to do other stuff as well. Murray isn’t very long, doesn’t have great size for a 2 guard, and is a poor athlete by NBA standards.
12. Denzel Valentine, Senior Guard, Michigan State
I might be overrating college production a bit too much here, but it’s hard to look at Valentine’s numbers and his game last year and not be blown away. He was second nationally in assist rate, had a turnover rate of just 17 percent, and shot 44 percent on threes. He was Michigan State’s best scorer, best passer, and one of its best rebounders. He will probably get some Draymond Green comparisons because, like Green, Valentine is a four year guy from Michigan State who is a versatile offensive player. The big difference, of course, is that Green is one of the biggest defensive weapons in basketball while Valentine’s defense is his biggest weakness. I am not as down on it as other people seem to be, but there’s no doubt he will have to be hid a bit on that end of the floor. If teams can live with that, they can take advantage of Valentine’s skill set on the other end.
13. Marquese Chriss, Freshman Forward, Washington
Chriss was pretty unknown among casual college basketball fans this year playing on the west coast for a not good team, but was really good all season for Washington. Chriss has only been playing competitively for a handful of years, which means his upside is incredibly high, but who knows if he will get there. He is a tremendous athlete, great leaper, and is prolific around the rim. He has plenty of issues, however: he is not great defensively, is a terrible defensive rebounder, and isn’t much of a passer. If his shooting continues to improve, though, he’s probably a lottery pick.
14. Deyonta Davis, Freshman Forward, Michigan State
I tend to disfavor one and done guys who didn’t have great production in their lone college season, but I suppose I am bending to the wisdom of the crowds with Davis. He had great efficiency and per-40 numbers in his lone season at MSU, but I think it is fair to question whether that will project out to when he actually gets full time minutes. Davis is a good finisher around the rim, but I don’t see him becoming much of an offensive stalwart in the league. Defensively, though, he has tremendous potential. He has a 7-2 wingspan according to Draft Express, and he looks like a really good fit at power forward or center in the NBA.
15. Wade Baldwin, Sophomore Guard, Vanderbilt
16. Domantas Sabonis, Sophomore Forward, Gonzaga
17. Taurean Prince, Senior Forward, Baylor
18. Damian Jones, Senior Center, Vanderbilt
19. Malik Beasley, Freshman Guard, Florida State
20. Tyler Ulis, Sophomore Guard, Kentucky
21. DeAndre Bembry, Junior Forward, St. Joes
22. Cheick Diallo, Freshman Forward, Kansas
23. Dejounte Murray, Freshman Guard, Washington
24. Patrick McCaw, Sophomore Guard, UNLV
25. Wayne Selden, Junior Guard, Kansas
26. Stephen Zimmerman, Freshman Center, UNLV
27. Brice Johnson, Senior Forward, UNC
28. Malcolm Brogdon, Senior Guard, Virginia
29. Jake Layman, Senior Forward, Maryland
30. Diamond Stone, Freshman Center, Maryland