March Madness is here, which means the 2016 NBA draft is close. Here's a look at the top 20 NBA prospects as the NCAA tournament tips off.
Welcome to draft season. Off the court and behind the scenes, front offices are collecting information full-tilt as the focus begins to shift from this year to next. We’re here to guide you through these murky, rumor-filled waters and make as much sense of the climate as possible, no illuminati membership required.
First things first: the only actual consensus about this draft right now is that one way or the other, Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram will be the first two players drafted. From what I’ve gathered in talking to NBA personnel, Simmons is still the favorite. You try talking yourself out of a 6’10” savant of a point forward just because he sometimes pouts and lacks a little confidence in his jump shot. Go find a person on this earth who had everything completely together up there when they were a college freshman.
After those guys, there’s immense room for movement. It’s not a secret this a down year, especially in contrast to the already-bountiful 2015 class. There’s always relative value to be had, but this draft gets into probable role-player territory earlier than usual. Stocks are fluid, lots will change.
One important thing I was reminded of in conversations with sources: don’t forget about the salary-cap hike. Look at the massive contracts handed out to role-player types last off-season (think $60 million for a steady wing guy like DeMarre Carroll or $58 million for…Omer Asik). Then, trust the average free-market salary will be taking a hefty leap this summer.
How does that impact the draft? The potential value of a first-rounder has never been higher. The influx of money seems certain to inflate rookie deals under the next collective bargaining agreement, coming to an arena near you in 2017. Teams will want to maximize the incredible market inefficiency that is five cost-controlled years of a quality player on the current scale (particularly big men, who tend to command more as free agents). That might mean making a safer investment instead of taking a chance, just to make sure you don't end up with nothing.
Below, you’ll find SI.com’s first Big Board of 2016. Let the Madness begin.