2017 NBA Big Board 3.0: NCAA Tourney Tips Off Draft Season
- The start of the NCAA Tournament is here, and so is draft season. Before players begin to get knocked out and declare for the NBA, we present our latest Big Board.
Congrats everyone, we’ve made it to March. The NCAA tourney kicks off today, and essentially, so does draft season. Teams will get knocked out, their players will declare or not declare for the draft, and the whole picture will begin to get clearer. This is the third edition of this season’s Big Board, which ranks prospects in a vacuum as of present events, and does not adjust for team fit. This is not a mock draft.
Now that the self-serious part is out of the way, let’s get to it. It’s shaping up like a particularly exciting tournament, with 19 of our Top 30 players set to partake. There are a good couple dozen solid sleepers in the field who we can come back to later (trust me, there’s an arbitrary ranking of about 125 draft-eligible players buried in my iCloud notes). But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Things are getting serious and will only pick up from here, and you’re not reading this for the intro anyway.
Here’s SI’s Top 30 as of March 16.
It’s a shame Fultz won’t be playing in the tournament this week, but if anything, the overall radio silence regarding his likely No. 1 selection speaks volumes. He remains the prospect with the highest floor and arguably highest ceiling in this class, checking boxes on both sides of the floor. His remarkable offensive efficiency in pick and rolls this season pops out: in scoring and passing situations combined, he generated 1.042 points per possession per Synergy (basically, Washington scored about half the time) despite the lack of talent around him. He’s the type of guy you tank for.
Tatum opened the season in this slot and has tentatively regained it after a series of jaw-dropping performances this month, including the ACC tournament last week. He opened the year hurt and had a tough adjustment to the college game, but has grown to understand his role in Duke’s offense and reined in his shot selection a bit. Tatum’s extremely skilled, will be able to score at the next level and can create his own shot (he’s been especially efficient scoring in end-of-clock situations). The biggest questions are 1) how effective will his style be against NBA defenders, 2) can his three-point shooting improve, and 3) what does he bring to the table when he’s not scoring? If it all clicks he could be a star, and if Duke makes a deep tourney run, his success will be a major reason why.
The most well-rounded wing in the draft, Jackson has dealt with some off-court trouble that led to a one-game suspension, but will be back with Kansas for the tournament. He’s been an impressive college player and basically bullied his way around all season with his strength and explosiveness. Jackson’s biggest strength is his defensive ability, followed by the potential to be a strong secondary playmaker and a unique offensive piece. He’s shot the ball better down the stretch too, although nobody’s convinced he’s going to be a consistent NBA shooter yet. He may not carry your offense, but his variety of ways to make an NBA impact keeps his draft range lofty.
Although he’s another March absentee, Smith’s ceiling remains right up there with the best players in this draft. He’s a bowling ball of a scorer and playmaker and explosive athlete in the vein of a Steve Francis or Baron Davis, a combo of which is probably the best possible outcome here. NC State was bad, but he was still the ACC Freshman of the Year with some truly eye-popping moments (go back and watch that upset win over Duke). The other lottery guards have nabbed more headlines, but Smith remains a long-term answer for a point guard-needy team.
Though he comes with his fair share of questions, Monk’s unique scoring ability comes with a world of possibilities. Not many teenagers can take over a game the way he can as a shooter—he manages to make it look easy off the catch, off the dribble and spotting up. Kentucky tends to go as he goes. He’s also a fantastic athlete (which will lend itself to his long-term success) and a better passer than he’s gotten a chance to show in his role alongside De’Aaron Fox. The issue here is what Monk does for you when he’s not scoring, as an undersized shooting guard who’s not a defensive plus. His ceiling is massive if everything translates, and his floor is probably an elite-level bench scorer. He’ll be a fun watch no matter what.
Lonzo Ball’s a transcendent college player and passer and is going to be a top five pick. But when you try and separate the greater narrative about him as a prospect with what your eyes are seeing, there are still a lot of valid concerns. It’s impossible to separate him from UCLA’s fast-paced, talent-laden offense, and although Ball is what makes the machine work, what will he do if thrust into half-court situations against NBA athletes? How will he create his own shot? Don’t get it twisted—we should all want Ball to be this good as a pro, and if he is, he could turn a franchise around. If he’s simply a facilitator who struggles to create for himself he’ll still be useful, but perhaps not the generational player television coverage has made him out to be.
It’s been a remarkable debut season for Patton, who continues to fly somewhat under the radar but profiles like a Top 10 pick. He’s received fewer shot opportunities over the second half of the season (Creighton’s been without point guard Mo Watson), but done plenty with them—he shot almost 70% from the floor this season, and according to Synergy, his offensive efficiency finished top tier in literally every situation but spot-up shooting (a part of his game with real potential). That’s stunning from a seven-footer nobody was aware of six months ago. Not many big men move as fluidly as Patton, and he’s a good passer and a very good per-minute shot blocker. Questions surround his rebounding, but Patton’s barely played any elite-level basketball. When he packs on muscle, look out.
It’s pretty easy to see why Isaac is a good prospect, but it takes a lot of projection to view him as a future star. He’s a huge shooter who rebounds, blocks shots and doesn’t need the basketball all the time to be impactful. He also floats from game to game and can struggle to get himself involved offensively. Working in his favor? The role he’s carved out as a stellar complimentary player for the Seminoles (who feature ball-dominant guards) feels similar to how he might be utilized in the NBA. Adding weight to his frame is imperative, but Isaac remains a solid bet to strengthen your rotation. He’s giving off some Harrison Barnes-type role vibes right now—and hey, that’s not bad.
Markkanen, Arizona’s star import from Finland, has been streaky with a few big lines over the last month. In his best moments (29 points against UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament was a high), he looks like a potential game-changer as a seven-foot pure shooter. His overall offensive upside remains high. However, Kristaps Porzingis he is not: he’s struggled to rebound the ball with consistency, doesn’t block many shots, and looks like a potential problem on the defensive end. His center of gravity is too high for him to stick with smaller forwards, and he’s not strong enough right now to handle bigs, either. How he handles defensive demands will likely determine how long he can stay on the NBA court night to night, and therein lies the question of his ceiling. At worst, he looks like a useful floor-spacing big, and hey—those guys aren’t always easy to find.
French Frank looks to be right there with this crop of lottery point guards, as an extremely well-built playmaker and the top overseas import in the class. His massive wingspan will let him stick different positions and his size allows him to see over defenses and facilitate. He’s an aggressive defender who loves to poke around for steals and understands how to leverage his length. His jumper looks to have improved some and he recently moved into the starting lineup for Strasbourg. There are very few questions about his tools, and he could become a strong two-way player at the next level. Ntikilina’s relatively small production sample size and questions about exactly how much he’ll be able to score in the NBA are the big issues for now.
The only thing holding Fox back is his spot-up shooting—he’s not a great shooter off the catch or anywhere on the perimeter, and that asterisk hangs over the rest of his game. Fox is a tremendous, instinctive athlete with size and plays with a ton of energy. He can get to the rim, score and draw fouls and has a pretty prototypical profile beyond the jumper. Given the quality of his peers, it’s a pretty tough year to be a point guard in the lottery, but Fox’s clear strengths will keep him pretty solid here. If he figures out the shooting issues, he could wind up a steal.
Williams is another kid who made a surprising leap into the lottery conversation after a strong freshman season that showcased serious physical tools, including a 7’4” wingspan. He’s a highly active player who’s shown the ability to make a difference on both sides of the floor. He blocks shots, moves well and has a developing offensive game, including a mid-range jumper. If the entire package comes together, he’ll be a valuable piece. Williams remains rawer than most.
• MORE NBA: The Case For: Not filling out an NCAA bracket
One of the biggest enigmas in the draft, Giles has begun to show flashes of the player he was pre-injury. He rebounded well and stayed active in limited minutes at the ACC tournament, also blocking four shots against North Carolina. Although his performance alone this season doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence, if his knees check out, it’s easy to see a team gambling on his potential. He’d benefit from another year of college, but you can’t blame a guy with three knee surgeries if he wants a pro contract now. Want a guy who could truly benefit from a strong NCAA tourney run? It’s Giles.
Perhaps the best backup center in college basketball, Collins continues to impress behind Przemek Karnowski. His offensive contributions and efficiency in limited minutes have been significant. He’s a terrific offensive rebounder, shoots the ball well and profiles neatly into the NBA’s style of play, with a premium on versatile big men. Gonzaga’s not playing elite competition and the reduced playing time likely benefits here, but Collins looks like a great fit for the NBA game. He’ll be a very interesting proposition for someone if he comes out.
An explosive athlete first and foremost, Bridges has inched his way up this board by continuing to produce for Michigan State, particularly as a distance shooter. He’ll need the three-ball to translate in order to stay on the floor offensively as an undersized frontcourt player. If he can help with spacing, run the floor and contribute high energy on the glass and both sides of the ball, Bridges could be a uniquely impactful NBA player. He’s a miscast as the Spartans’ leading scorer (somewhat out of necessity), and with better shot selection and less pressure to carry the load could excel. If the offense doesn’t click against better competition — and those concerns are justifiable — it might be tough to keep him on the floor.
Ferguson’s deep shooting ability as a traditional two-guard sets him apart among a relatively thin positional crop. He’s long, bouncy and should be able to defend on the wing as he gets stronger, profiling as a useful piece that most teams can fit into a rotation. The questions many have are tied to a lack of productivity in Australia, which to some degree is understandable after skipping college entirely and learning to fill a role. It wasn’t a perfect adjustment to the pros, but there’s still a shooter with upside here. Teams should come around in workout situations.
Anunoby’s season-ending knee injury shouldn’t drop him out of the first round if he decides to come out anyway, and with Indiana ending the season on a low note, it’s easy to see him leaving. His plus-plus potential as a multi-positional defender with crazy length keeps his value pretty high as long as the medicals check out, and having access to pro training staffs as his rehab continues won’t hurt. Anunoby showed a decent three-point shot this season and remains a bundle of upside. He’s a worthwhile investment at a discounted price in this draft range.
• Open Floor Podcast: How will March Madness affect the draft
All eyes will be on Hartenstein as the top foreign prospect at next month’s Hoop Summit, and he’ll have a chance to leave an impression against top competition going into draft season. He has good size and an intriguing set of versatile skills well-suited for the NBA. He’s strong and agile and knows how to score the basketball in different situations. All the elements of a good player are here, but he’ll have to figure out how to play with teammates in a situation that likely won’t lean on him for a ton of isolation shots. He’s turnover prone and has a reputation for being overly emotional on the court. If Hartenstein adequately answers the right questions, he could rise further on this list.
Rabb’s sophomore year finished out a bit underwhelming, but he still averaged a double double as Cal wound up in the NIT. He’s not a great shot-blocker and didn’t improve a ton on his overall numbers from last season, which won’t work in his favor. Rabb also didn’t expand on the promise he showed as a mid-range shooter, which could have gone a long way. He’s limited in some ways, but looks like a solid role player and has the talent to make an impact at the next level as a rebounder and supporting scorer. Rabb could be a buy-low opportunity if he slips.
Here’s a guy who may not have gotten enough credit for a stellar freshman season as the exact type of versatile, active player required to maximize the Bruins’ uptempo, spacing-heavy style. Leaf is an offense-heavy player, but can score inside and out, pass the ball and work the glass, looking like a stretch-four prototype in many ways. How big a role Leaf deserves in the NBA depends on how he’ll match up defensively, where he’s built more like a small forward than a big man but lacks the lateral quickness to step out on a lot of wings.
One of the ACC’s most productive players and biggest surprises, Collins took a huge sophomore leap and looks bound for the first round if he comes out. He rebounds extremely well and shot 60% anchoring Wake in a very tough ACC. Collins doesn’t look especially comfortable finishing with his left hand, doesn’t have much of a jump shot and could improve his overall awareness on the floor, his tools offer a safe enough floor as a rim-running big. He’s a bit of a project.
Kurucs is an athletic Latvian slasher playing for Barcelona’s reserve team and looks like a guy teams can draft and keep overseas as he develops. He’s got good size and strength and can create his own shot, also passing the ball well and checking the right boxes for a wing. He had a meniscus injury early this season that caused him to miss some time. We’ll see how much his ability translates and lets him keep up at the next level, but Kurucs looks like an NBA-type talent. He stands out amid a thinner crop of European players than in recent years. I am still figuring out this pronunciation.
• MORE NBA: Mock Draft before the madness
After testing the waters last season, struggling at the combine and returning to Carolina, Jackson has shown massive improvement as the Tar Heels’ go-to scorer. He’s always had a great scoring feel and has the type of length on the wing that makes him a very difficult cover. The biggest key: he’s now shooting 37% instead of 29% from three, rounding out a varied offensive skill set in a significant manner. As a shooter and supplementary rotation scorer, he’s appealing.
Clinically efficient as a shooter and terrific at picking his spots, Kennard was key to keeping Duke afloat early in the season. He knows how to get himself open, handles and moves the ball well, and is easy to pencil in as a helpful NBA role guy. He’s extremely intelligent, tougher than he gets credit for, and could have a long career somewhere. Kennard will have trouble creating his shot off the dribble against pro length and might struggle on the defensive end, but has the type of shooting ability to make a difference anyway.
Anigbogu might need another year of school to sharpen his craft, but his build, athleticism and overall grit under the basket will get him picked if he comes out. He’s one of the youngest players in all of college basketball, and has been a useful role player for a UCLA team that has sorely needed his defensive ability in the post and as a shot blocker. Anigbogu has a long developmental curve as far as contributing on offense, but man, is it fun to watch him play D. He’ll likely be doing someone’s dirty work in the league eventually.
At this point, Adebayo is who he is, and in this draft range that’s fine. He’s strong, quick and can galvanize a team with his work on the interior, but when he’s not impacting the game on the glass, he doesn’t give you a ton. His post skills aren’t far along, he doesn’t shoot jumpers very comfortably in games and stands a a little smaller than you’d like for a guy with a skill set like his. He’s essentially a poor man’s Tristan Thompson.
Lydon never quite broke out the way some hoped after last year’s Final Four run, but he’s still a strong shooter with some size who rebounds well. He runs hot and cold, but his hot days can swing games. Lydon needs to work on his build, particularly his lower body strength to bang inside in the NBA, and he’s built more like a three than a four-man. There’s scoring potential here, at minimum.
Again, Hart will be one of those picks that you shouldn’t overthink. His well-rounded, mature game at his size make him a good choice for teams needing immediate backcourt help. Villanova looks poised for another deep March run, in case Hart’s ability needs any affirming. He may not end up in the first round, but he’s going to help someone.
Swanigan’s growth into one of college basketball’s most dominant players over the last year has been astonishing. With vastly improved conditioning and a slimmed-down frame, he made a serious leap into a rebounding machine who can hurt defenses inside and out, giving him a chance to make a successful NBA transition. Swanigan’s length helps compensate for his height, and the key will be finding him workable defensive matchups and ensuring he stays in prime shape. Why doubt him now?
It’s a challenge to separate Grayson Allen the public figure from Grayson Allen the basketball player, but the latter is still pretty damn good and has the talent to really help someone’s rotation down the line. There are times where he appears to be playing tight, forcing things and feeling the pressure of his reputation as a dirty player, and receiving a fresh start in the pros should help him push reset and get back to the things that make him valuable. He’s a very good athlete and shooter who could really thrive in the right spot, bringing toughness on both sides of the ball.
Dropped off: Jarrett Allen, Texas (23), Thomas Bryant, Indiana (27), Tony Bradley, UNC (28)