The NBA needs to push the Draft back a couple of weeks, there is not enough time to regroup after a Finals that goes to the limit. That said, here are my thoughts on this draft class heading into the Draft tonight.
Despite the universal agreement that there are two top players in this draft, I think time will show that this draft class will provide depth, more than it will provide superstars. I am not sure there are any players that will immediately change the outlook for an NBA franchise, but I think there are dozens of players who can eventually be starters on contending teams.
Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram will be the first two picks, but neither can make the immediate impact Karl Towns made last year. Simmons needs to develop a consistent jump shot and better defensive habits, but he can be force on offense in the open floor. Ingram needs to get stronger, and also improve his defense, but both of those seem like plausible developments.
I will say this with the disclaimer that I went to Oklahoma and am a fan of their basketball team, but whichever team takes Buddy Hield will not be disappointed. Three-point shooting is such a weapon in today’s NBA, and he is possibly the best shooter in this draft. But he was obviously the best player in college last season, he is so much more than just a shooter. Oklahoma struggled in the second half of the Big 12 season because teams realized they should shade two help defenders on Buddy at all times. So, assessments that he struggles to create off the dribble need to acknowledge that opposing defenses were loaded up on him more than any other college player with the possible exception of Simmons. He does need to get better at using those situations to create for teammates, but he has shown improvement in that area over the last two years. Some scouts use his age a drawback, but how much he has improved over the last three years should be exciting. Hield has shown a great work ethic and the discipline to improve, and those are skills. You know you are going to get enthusiasm and love for the game, and you do not know if you are going to get that with some freshmen and internationals. He needs to cut down on turnovers, but you know he is going to put the time in to work on it. He can thrive as a third scoring option on a very good team. I think New Orleans would be the perfect fit for him.
The one player in this draft who might be as good of a pure shooter as Hield is Jamal Murray. The rest of his game might not be as polished, but he is a very good prospect. So is Kris Dunn, who seems to be the perfect fit as a prototypical point guard in today’s NBA. Dunn can still improve on his outside shot, but the mechanics are there. He has the potential to be a menace on defense. He is the best point guard prospect of the last three years.
Jaylen Brown is one of the more intriguing prospects of this draft. He has the size, athleticism, and skill to be a freight train in the open floor. He plays good defense for his age, and he is very smart. But he disappeared too often last season for California, including in their one tournament game, where he was deplorable in their loss to Hawai’i. His shot could be more consistent too, to open up the rest of his game. I think his ceiling is actually on par with Simmons and Ingram, and I could easily see Brown end up being the best player in this draft.
True big men are something of a dinosaur in 2016, but I think there is a nice pool of them in this draft. Domantas Sabonis, Jakob Poeltl, and Henry Ellenson are all very good prospects, and all of them should have the power to finish in the post at the next level. Sabonis is extremely polished – remember his father is one of the most skilled centers of all time – and he can run the floor well enough to be effective in an up-tempo game. Poeltl has tremendous footwork for a seven-footer. He needs to add muscle, but he has the frame to do it. He also needs to be more aggressive, and his defense on quicker players is still somewhat questionable. Ellenson may be the best of the three, with amazing athleticism for his size. He has also shown a lot of skill as a deft ball-handler and passer; he is not afraid to lead the fast break. He has the ability to hit from deep, and as his outside shot continues to improve, he will become a force offensively.
The next tier of big men is also quality. Damian Jones has all the athleticism needed for his size, but needs to be more assertive. Stephen Zimmerman had a rough year at UNLV, but he has some skills that are reminiscent of Pau Gasol. He could use extra muscle however, but his frame may not support it, and he had an injury as a child that never properly healed in his arm that could be a red flag.
Marquese Chriss to this point is all potential and no substance. He has staggering athleticism for his size, but he did not rebound well in college, and he has shown no understanding of defensive positioning. His college teammate at Washington, Dejounte Murray is getting hype that I do not understand. In his one year in college he did not shoot well from three and he was very turnover prone, which seems like a bad combination for a guard. For one player, such as Simmons, to be on an unimpressive team is one thing, but both Chriss and Murray were on a Washington team that finished in the bottom half of the PAC 12 and did not make the NCAA tournament. TWO top 20 draft picks on a team that bad? I am not buying it.
Two players who had disappointing one-year stints in college were Skal Labissiere and Cheick Diallo. I see Diallo as a much better prospect. Diallo dominated camps and all-star games coming out of high school, but got buried on the bench at Kansas where they had a wealth of big men. The difference with Labissiere is that he was on a Kentucky team that need more contributions down low and he was not able to make anything of the opportunity. Both of these players need to work on their motor and understanding of the game.
Dunn’s teammate at Providence, Ben Bentil is a prospect who I think should be taken more seriously. He has been explosive from three-point land, has a great basketball body at 6’9″ and has the athleticism and energy to make big plays. His defense is a work in progress, but that is the case for most prospects in this class.
I like the potential of Wade Baldwin, Malachi Richardson, and Brice Johnson. Baldwin has freakish length for a guard, and shoots it pretty well from deep. Richardson has streaks where he shoots it lights-out from deep, and he has nice length for a wing and a propensity for big moments. Johnson improved immensely over his four years at North Carolina, turning into a monster on the glass with a reliable mid-range game.
A few more sleepers that I like are Caris LeVert, Daniel Hamilton, and Troy Williams. LeVert is a great offensive player who needs to shake the label of “injury prone.” Hamilton is an all-around player who is not great at any one thing. Williams is a ballistic athlete who needs to improve is outside shot and decision making.
I have not seen any of the international players, so I cannot assess their potential. I think this is a draft where many picks from around eight to the end of the first round could be looked at in the future as nice picks.