It’s way too soon for this. Sorry. This is all going to look different a year from now. But this is the NBA, and potential never sleeps. Neither do wingspan, standing reach or high motors. It’s time to dive in—at surface level, that is—to next year’s draft.
Here’s an early projection of what next year’s talent might look like. Is there a better prospect than Brandon Ingram or Ben Simmons here? We’ll find out soon, but this draft at minimum appears rife with the next tier of talent, guys who are clearly NBA players, but have to prove they’ll one day be stars. By and large, these types of guys could have easily been selected in the 3–10 range in this year’s class, which featured a thin tier of truly bankable NBA-quality talent.
Without further ado, we give you an early look at the top 15 prospects for the 2017 NBA draft.
1. Harry Giles | PF | Duke | 6’10”, 222 | Freshman
You've probably heard of Harry Giles by now, so you probably also know that his knees will likely be the main reason he is—or isn’t—in the top spot a year or so from now. Giles tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee between his freshman and sophomore years, then partially tore his right ACL back in November. He’s a tremendous talent and productive player on the inside. He boasts a 7’3” wingspan and 9’1” standing reach, and there’s reason for optimism that he’ll become an elite rebounder and finisher. If his agility and explosion return to what they were, he should be just fine. His jump shot also has to improve a bit if Giles is to become a star. For now, his health is a bit of a wait–and–see situation. And rest assured, all eyes will be on Duke.
2. Josh Jackson | G/F | Kansas | 6’8”, 203 | Freshman
With his high-level defensive ability and diverse skillset, Jackson has a case to be No. 1 overall. For what it’s worth, he’s the best high school perimeter defender I’ve evaluated over the past five years. He’s at his best in transition as a scorer and passer and has developed a workable mid-range game. His jump shot mechanics, however, are a work in progress. Jackson can fall into spells of playing out of control, and his shot selection and turnovers suffer as a result. Still, if it all comes together, you’re looking at a legitimate two-way piece who can guard four positions. One caveat: he’s quite old for his class and will turn 20 next February.
3. Markelle Fultz | PG | Washington | 6’5”, 186 | Freshman
Fultz’s huge senior year had NBA heads on a swivel, and with his size, savvy and scoring ability, he’ll be an easy player to fall in love with at Washington. He’ll enter college far more polished than either Marquese Chriss or Dejounte Murray did as Huskies. Also, consider the fact he’s on the younger side for his class (he turned 18 at the end of May). He’s displayed a mature, smooth game, the ability to make perimeter shots and a quiet confidence that shone through in various settings. There are always alpha dogs in each high school class, and Fultz looked like one of them at the Jordan Brand Classic. This is a player to get excited about.
4. Jayson Tatum | G/F | Duke | 6’8”, 204 | Freshman
With good measurements and wide set of offensive skills, Tatum is a very good bet to produce at a high level from the outset of his college career. He’s pretty polished and has two-way tools. He does, however, look for his own shot a bit too much at times and loves to settle for tough mid-range shots rather than attack the basket all the way. His three-point shooting isn’t where it needs to be yet. Tatum has potential to be a uniquely versatile player, but will need to eliminate some bad habits at Duke and show more commitment to team basketball to maximize his stock.
5. Frank Ntilikina | PG | Strasbourg (France) | 6’5”, 170 | 17 years old
One of the stars of the prestigious annual Basketball Without Borders camp at All-Star Weekend, Ntilikina packs some prodigious pure point guard skills into an impressive frame and will likely be one of the youngest players in next year’s class. He’s a pass-first player with natural instincts and strong defensive ability. His streaky jump shot will be the biggest determinant of where his stock ends up.
6. Malik Monk | G | Kentucky | 6’4”, 185 | Freshman
First and foremost, Monk is among the truly elite in terms of athletic ability. His brother Marcus starred at wide receiver and also played basketball at Arkansas, and Malik is capable of some jaw-dropping things on a basketball court. He will have to produce enough at Kentucky to play himself into this range, but nobody thought Jamal Murray was a top–10 pick entering last season, and look where we are. Monk’s physical tools give him as high a ceiling as anyone, and he has a real nose for scoring the basketball. He’s improved some as a distance shooter. He will want to rein his offensive freelancing in a bit within Kentucky’s concept. As a combo guard with real star potential, he bears watching closely.
7. Ivan Rabb | F/C | California | 6’10”, 215 | Sophomore
Pulling out of the 2015 draft may have been a good decision for Rabb, who would have been drafted in the 10–20 range. With another year to develop his body and an opportunity to play a focal role in Cal’s offense, his stock could creep a bit higher. After averaging 12.5 points and 8.7 rebounds as a freshman, he should receive ample opportunity to develop his back to the basket game, polish his jumper and establish a greater defensive presence. The upside is very much there.
8. Edrice “Bam” Adebayo | F/C | Kentucky | 6’9”, 225 | Freshman
Adebayo profiles as a player in the mold of Tristan Thompson. His body, athleticism, competitive desire and rebounding ability are all very enticing, but his offensive skills have yet to truly catch up. He has made improvements in those areas, though, and will be productive at Kentucky by simply cleaning up for his star teammates around the basket. Adebayo could be an elite-level energy big if all breaks well. You don’t have to watch him play for long to see the appeal.
9. Dennis Smith | PG | NC State | 6’2”, 160 | Freshman
This draft appears to have what the last one sorely lacked in high-end point guard talent, Smith being another supremely athletic guard with a high long-term outlook. He’s coming off a torn ACL and will have to prove he’s healthy next season, but if his explosiveness remains and he puts together a strong season, he could climb here. His decision-making can be questionable, and he’s a score-first guy. Given his slight frame, inconsistent three-point shot and injury concerns, envisioning him barreling into the NBA paint every night is a bit troubling. His physical profile alone offers tons of room to grow, and will convince someone to take a chance.
10. Thomas Bryant | C | Indiana | 6’10”, 241 | Sophomore
After making strides at the end of last season, Bryant boasted top–20 upside but opted to stay in Bloomington another year. He would have been quite young for his class had he gone, and a consistent year for the Hoosiers would benefit his stock. Bryant has a 7’5” wingspan and has already improved running the floor and as a finisher. If he can parlay his frame into improvement as a rim protector, it’ll give him a real boost.
11. De’Aaron Fox | PG | Kentucky | 6’4”, 171 | Freshman
Fox enters college ready-made to produce and run the show at Kentucky. John Calipari has a pretty good history with those types of guys translating to the NBA. With solid size and impressive speed and change-of-direction, Fox is already a very good defender, showing the instincts to deflect passes and a willingness to hound ballhandlers early in his high school career. He’s also accomplished as a playmaker and ball-handler. It’s not clear what parts of his scoring are going to translate at the NBA level yet, but he’s got the pieces to help someone down the line.
12. Terrance Ferguson | SG | Undecided | 6’7”, 186 | Freshman
Reports have indicated Ferguson will play overseas next season and forgo college. If he can maintain enough pro visibility wherever he ends up, his shooting, bounce and defensive length make him a strong fit for the modern game. He’s streaky, has to improve off the dribble and add strength, but it’s easy to look at him and see a starting–caliber shooting guard.
13. Isaiah Hartenstein | PF | Zalgiris (Lithuania) | 6’11”, 225 | 18
There are a ton of tools to like with Hartenstein, who grew up in the States (his father played at Oregon), moved to Germany and is bound for his first taste of high-level competition at Zalgiris. An athletic big who moves well on both sides of the ball, can put it on the deck and shoot the three, his skill set appears unique among bigs in this class. If he were an American entering college, there would likely be more buzz. Hartenstein needs to be coached at a high level and will at some point have to adjust to not being the lone star on his team. The necessary talent looks to be there there otherwise, and he just turned 18 in May.
14. Jonathan Isaac | SF | Florida State | 6’11”, 205 | Freshman
Strong shooting potential coupled with high-end size and length makes Isaac a definite prospect, but he requires more projection than some. He’s very slender and moves like a guy his size might off the dribble, which is to say he can have trouble getting downhill and creating his shot. This can render him a bit one-dimensional, and belies some useful athletic tools. Isaac is an older prospect and will be 20 entering his rookie year. Consistent college production will be paramount for his stock.
15. Lonzo Ball | PG | UCLA | 6’4”, 162 | Freshman
Ball could be one of the most divisive players in this class. He anchored an insanely effective high school offense that starred his two younger brothers and chucked three-pointers relentlessly. From watching Ball in that setting, his passing gifts and defensive potential were clear, but it was difficult to discern what parts of his game were hidden in the system. He’ll make unbelievable passes and deep threes, but owns a bizarre-looking jump shot and his skinny frame that leaves room for concern. UCLA should offer a better setting with which to assess his game, but right now he doesn’t look like a consistent NBA scorer. And that said, his draft stock will likely be otherwise tied to how far his special playmaking skills take him.