- The 2017 class has received plenty of hype, but the prospects lived up to their lofty billing during March Madness. Here's the latest projections with the NCAA tourney wrapped.
All year long, basketball fans have been casually alluding to the loaded draft class that's coming to the NBA in June. Some of the buzz was rooted in actual performances—like the night Dennis Smith torched Duke, for example—but some of it was the just natural rhetorical momentum. Every time someone made a knowing reference to the depth of this draft class, it began to feel less like a projection and more like fact.
So after hearing people rhapsodize about the talent in this class for the past six months, a little backlash would be natural. How many potential All-Stars can any draft have? How many 19-year-olds can really be that impressive? We were due for a letdown.
But honestly, that reality check never came during the NCAA tournament. Yes, most of the best one-and-dones were gone by the second weekend, but in the games they actually played, almost everyone showed flashes that helped validate the hype.
While the tournament gave us a few clear winners (De'Aaron Fox, Zach Collins), there just weren't many losers. After a month in the spotlight, the 2017 Draft now looks deeper and more intriguing than ever. On that note, it's time to study our subtweets, ignore LaVar Ball, run the Tankathon simulator 10 different times, and jump into another mock.
(The order is current as of April 3.)
1. Celtics (via Nets): Markelle Fultz, PG, Washington | Freshman
Fultz has been the favorite to go first all year long. Had UCLA or Kansas made a title run there may have been some drama at the top here, but even then, Fultz is still the best prospect in the field. He can play either backcourt spot, he's the most explosive guard in a lottery that's full of them, and he checks just about every box for an NBA guard prospect in 2017. He'd be a good fit next to Isaiah Thomas in Boston, and as Isaiah's contract year approaches, having Fultz around as the guard of the future would be a nice insurance policy should Isaiah get too expensive.
2. Suns: Josh Jackson, SF, Kansas | Freshman
Halfway through the year, Josh Jackson was dogged by questions about his jumper. He's got a hitch in his shot, his scoring was inconsistent, and his low percentage from the line (56%) wasn't inspiring much hope for a future on the perimeter. Since then, two things have happened. First, Jackson's scoring and shooting picked up as the year went on, giving scouts a preview of just how good he could be if he does develop a passable game on the perimeter. Second, he was so good at everything else for Kansas that obsessing over his jumper began to feel shortsighted. He could be a two-way terror at the next level, with a relatively high floor as a do-everything wing. Pairing Jackson with Devin Booker might be the most attractive fit in the draft, so here's to hoping Phoenix can build on the truly impressive 12-game-losing streak to keep this pick secure.
3. Lakers: Lonzo Ball, PG, UCLA | Freshman
I wrote about a few different Lonzo questions last week. He's got a high floor as a pass-first point guard, but questions about his jumper and his athleticism will go long way toward deciding just how great he is in the NBA. In other words, are we getting Ricky Rubio 2.0, or Taller Steve Nash in the perfect era to maximize his skillset? For now, there's too much upside to pass up. Just as important: Lonzo staying in LA with Jeannie and Magic and D'Angelo is the one, perfectly insane draft outcome we can all root for.
4. Magic: Jayson Tatum, SF, Duke | Freshman
Duke lost early in the NCAA tournament—praise be to Sindarius Thornwell—but not before Jayson Tatum took over the ACC Tournament and looked like the most skilled offensive player in the draft. After struggling with an injury early in the season and struggling to get comfortable on a crowded Duke roster once he returned, February and March gave us the Tatum that most scouts expected. He's got an NBA body at 6'8" and 205 pounds, with the skills to create offense on his own, and shooting mechanics that should allow him to comfortably extend his game out to the perimeter. The Magic need literally everything at this point, and they can't afford to miss here. Tatum feels like a safer play than almost anyone in the top 10.
5. Sixers: Malik Monk, SG, Kentucky | Freshman
Most people understand what's on the table for the Sixers come lottery night, but it can't be stressed enough that there's a very real chance that this team steals both the Lakers pick and a top-three pick. They can then add those two selections to a roster that already features Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, likely-Rookie of the Year Dario Saric, and already-iconic TJ McConnell. All of which is to say, adding Monk to play alongside Simmons and Embiid would be a fun fit, but The Process Nuclear Option is very much in play. Prepare accordingly.
6. Knicks: De'Aaron Fox, PG, Kentucky | Freshman
Nobody in the tournament helped himself more than De'Aaron Fox. But really, March was the culmination of a trend that dominated the final two months of the year. A little bit like Tatum at Duke, the second half of the season saw him get more comfortable, become far more assertive on offense, and quietly take control of Kentucky from Malik Monk. There are still reasons to be skeptical about his jumper from the perimeter, but the biggest difference for Fox was his intermediate game. Once his floaters started falling, everyone noticed that it was absolutely impossible to keep Fox out of the lane. That's a skill that will translate with or without a jumper, especially if he's finishing at the rim. Couple that with his skills as a distributor and lockdown defense, and ... Please keep tanking, Knicks! I need to spend the next 10 years watching Kristaps and De'Aaron Fox drive defenses crazy.
7. Kings: Dennis Smith, PG, NC State | Freshman
Dennis Smith missed the tournament after an NC State season that was dysfunctional from the start. Mike Gottfried was fired in February but still coached through the end of the year. Still, he's got as much upside as almost anyone on the board. He's an explosive scorer with a game that's part Steve Francis (when he's dunking) and part running back bowling through the defense (when he's getting to the rim). He's got the ability to take over games, and wherever he lands in the NBA, highlights are guaranteed. Sacramento needs those highlights as badly as anyone right now. Someone show Vivek footage from the Duke game and let's make this happen.
8. Wolves: Jonathan Isaac, SF, Florida State | Freshman
Isaac opened the tournament with a dominant performance against Florida Gulf Coast, showing flashes of why he's been a projected top-10 pick all year. He had 17 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, three blocks, and two steals. Sure, he and Florida State disappeared against Xavier, but that's fine. Isaac is still a few years away from realizing his potential, so some no-shows are to be expected. It's the 17/10/5/3 line that looks like a perfect fit for any team that needs a stretch four of the future, and sliding 6'11" Isaac between KAT and Wiggins is one move that could make the Future Wolves even scarier than they already were.
9. Mavericks: Lauri Markkanen, PF, Arizona | Freshman
Lauri Markkanen is one of the only players who really did have a disappointing tournament. Maybe it's because his dominant Pac-12 tournament game against UCLA (29 points, 6 rebounds) heightened the expectations, but either way, his struggles against Xavier helped underscore some of the questions about his game. He's not a great rebounder, he's not a great defender, and if he's not scoring from the perimeter, he struggles to contribute. That's reason to be cautious. The reason to be bullish: he's still 19 years old, and 7 feet tall with one of the deadliest jumpers in the draft. If he can improve in other areas as his body fills out, he could be a superstar. Let's send him to school with Dirk and Carlisle and see where this goes.
10. Kings (via Pelicans): Miles Bridges, SG, Michigan State | Freshman
Bridges entered the tournament with a chance to impress people, and even if Michigan State was outgunned by Kansas in the second half of their second–round matchup, Bridges delivered. He played Josh Jackson to a draw, and finished with 22 points and eight rebounds. At this point he's not the sort of player who will create his own offense in the halfcourt, but he given some of Michigan State's limits, he did a nice job carrying the load on offense. He began the year as a low-first rounder, but he's already further along on the perimeter than most scouts expected, and his stock should be solidified once he starts working out around the league. Here's to betting he lands close to the top 10 by the time June hits.
11. Pistons: Frank Ntilikina, PG, France | Age: 18
I need to study more YouTube clips of Ntilikina and I'm not there yet. For now, here's Jeremy Woo's Big Board scouting report: "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." I'm not sure he'd make sense for the Pistons, but we're keeping him just outside the top 10 because one way or another, it's unlikely he slips much further than this.
12. Hornets: Zach Collins, PF, Gonzaga | Freshman
Collins has been a first–round prospect for a few months now. The question isn't necessarily where he'd be drafted, but whether he'll declare after a freshman year spent backing up Gonzaga's magical bearded dump truck, Przemek Karnowski. We'll see on Collins. He was tremendous against South Carolina—14 points, 13 rebounds, 6 blocks in just 23 minutes—but against UNC, as he battled foul trouble alongside every other big man on the floor. Still, in just 14 minutes, he had nine points and seven rebounds. Rim protection and an ability to stretch the floor are the two most elusive skills for any center in the modern NBA, and Collins could do both for the right team. The Hornets need the help up front. If Collins is available, he could be worth it.
13. Nuggets: Justin Patton, C, Creighton | Freshman
Like Collins, Patton is capable on the perimeter and solid around the rim on defense. He's got a 7'3" wingspan and 9'1" standing reach. Denver has an intriguing young players almost everywhere on the roster—Nikola Jokic, Juancho Hernangomez, Jamal Murray, Emmanuel Mudiay, Malik Beasley, Gary Harris—but defense is an issue. Assuming the Nuggets keep this pick, they may want to look for a big man who can help mitigate Jokic's biggest weaknesses on defense while spacing the floor to allow him to do his new-age Sabonis thing on offense. Patton might just have the right combination of perimeter touch and rim protection to make this work.
14. Pacers: OG Anunoby, G/F, Indiana | Freshman
No team in the NBA is better at mining the middle of the first round for value. Larry Bird did it with Paul George, he did it with Myles Turner, and as the Pacers future gets darker and darker as the season winds down, maybe it's time to swing for the fences again. Yes, Anunoby is still raw offensively, and he's missed most of the season with a knee injury. On the other hand, even with the injury, he's right there with De'Aaron Fox and Justin Jackson as the best defensive prospect in the draft, and if he can grow offensively, he could turn into a star. if teams are looking for upside past the top 10, Anunoby will be as enticing as anyone.
15. Heat: Jarrett Allen, PF, Texas | Freshman
Like Collins, Jarrett Allen is another underclassmen who's kept scouts guessing. He went largely overshadowed next to every other potential All-Star in this class, but he quietly put together a very impressive run through the Big 12 season. Now he's declared for the draft, but won't hire an agent. Assuming he works out well, teams may see his massive 7'5" wingspan and look to roll the dice in hopes that he's Myles Turner 2.0. In Miami's case, he'd be a fun experiment as a backup to Hassan Whiteside, with the potential to be a wonderfully unfair role player a few years down the line.
16. Bulls: Terrance Ferguson, SG, Australia | Age: 18
Ferguson went to Australia and struggled to find a rhythm surrounded by professionals, but he's got two things going for him in this draft. First, he's one of the better athletes on the board. Second, he's a good shooter in a league that values the perimeter now more than ever. He was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma and went to high school at Deion Sanders's Prime Prep in Dallas, but I like to think of him as Australian J.R. Smith. Had he gone to Arizona, there's a good chance that he and Alonzo Trier and Lauri Markkanen could have been playing into the Final Four. Instead, here's to betting he wows teams in workouts and pushes his way into at least the top 20, and maybe the lottery.
17. Blazers: Justin Jackson, SF, North Carolina | Junior
Jackson did a little bit of everything for UNC, and that should continue in the NBA. He's not a tremendous athlete and there are still some lingering questions about his jumper—he improved his three-point shooting from 29% to 38% this year, but did go 4-of-18 from three in the Final Four—but he's got good size and length for an NBA wing, and chances are he'll find a way to be successful at the next level. He projects as something like what Otto Porter has been to the Wizards in DC, and for a Portland team that's full of expensive talent, getting a rookie who can contribute for the next few years could go a long way toward filling out the rotation.
18. Hawks: John Collins, PF, Wake Forest | Sophomore
It's true, John Collins doesn't really have the perimeter game that scouts are looking for in big men entering today's NBA. On the other hand, if there was one team who might be good enough to develop that perimeter game while also capitalizing on his wildly polished post moves and tremendous fundamentals everywhere else... it's the Hawks. Paul Millsap is a free agent along with every other Atlanta big man beyond Dwight Howard, and John Collins is looking pretty Hawksy.
19. Bucks: Isaiah Hartenstein, PF, Germany | Age: 18
Hartenstein will have a chance to impress scouts at the upcoming Hoop Summit, and he could see his stock rise in the coming months. For now, Woo's Big Board says: "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 could be a good fit for a Bucks team that's still struggling to find the center of the future, particularly if they can get him this low in the first round.
20. Blazers (via Grizzlies): T.J. Leaf, PF, UCLA | Freshman
Every time I watched UCLA I was looking for reasons to help explain why TJ Leaf isn't a top–20 pick, and I never quite got there. The Blazers have three first–round picks, and they've also got a starting rotation that suddenly looks a lot less barren with Jusuf Nurkic plugged in up front. So why not roll the dice on Leaf and see if he can turn into a killer stretch four off the bench? He's young and may take a year or two to adjust to the NBA, but he's super skilled, and agile enough to give teams problems in the NBA.
21. Thunder: Rodions Kurucs, SF, Latvia | Age: 19
One more time, from Woo: "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." Whether Rodions Kurucs goes to OKC or not, this entry in the mock is an acknowledge that the Doug McDermott 2.0 experiment is on life support, and the Thunder need shooting on the wing.
22. Raptors (via Clippers): Harry Giles, F, Duke | Freshman
By now, you probably know the Giles story. He was the headliner in this star-studded class for most of his high school career, but after two season-ending knee injuries in high school, his future got murkier. Another injury at Duke didn't help, and even after he returned midseason, he never really looked comfortable. Still, there's a lot of talent here, particularly if Giles can regain his athleticism. Someone will take a chance, and while Bruno Caboclo is still two years away from being two years away, we know Masai Ujiri is not afraid to take big swings.
23. Nets (via Wizards): Edmond Sumner, G, Xavier | Sophomore
Xavier made its annual run to the Elite Eight this year, but it happened without Sumner, an excellent sleeper prospect who went out for the year with a knee injury at the end of January. Sumner is a 6'6" point guard, and if he can develop his jumper at the next level, he has a chance to be a steal this low in the first round. The Nets can be patient, and if Sean Marks is looking for value this low, Sumner is a worthy gamble.
24. Magic (via Raptors): Ivan Rabb, PF, Cal | Sophomore
As we said in the Tatum section 20 picks earlier, the Magic need literally everything. Rabb won't be a star, but he projects as a rotational big man with a higher floor than most guys who'll be picked in the 20s.
25. Jazz: Luke Kennard, SG, Duke | Sophomore
Had Duke made a deeper run in the tournament, there was a chance Kennard could have scored his way into the teens and maybe even the late lottery. That might have been overdoing it. Kennard should be an effective scorer as a role player off the bench, but in this draft, the 20s feels like the right spot for him. Especially for a Utah team that may not be able to afford to keep Joe Ingles this summer.
26. Blazers (via Cavs): Donovan Mitchell, SG, Louisville | Sophomore
Donovan Mitchell is one of my favorite players in the draft. He's a phenomenal athlete who plays great defense, and while the Michigan loss was a reminder that he doesn't quite have the skills of a lead guard, he could be perfect as a third guard who comes off the bench to harass people for 20 minutes-a-game. Let's give him to Portland to help balance out the defensive allergies of CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard.
27. Nets (via Celtics): Tyler Lydon, F, Syracuse | Sophomore
Lydon is a good shooter who will need to get better at everything else to succeed in the NBA, with strength a particular concern. On the bright side, his size at 6'9" should help the cause, and the current version of the NBA adores big men who can stretch the floor. From Brooklyn's perspective, don't think of him as a poor man's TJ Leaf. Think of him as a rich man's Justin Hamilton.
28. Lakers (via Rockets): Semi Ojeleye, F, SMU | Junior
Ojeleye is built like a defensive end, and he was terrific as a scorer for SMU all year. He can shoot from three and score inside as well. If the Lakers could get him this low, it'd be a nice win. While we're here, please go watch him with the most impressive putback dunk of the year.
29. Spurs: D.J. Wilson, F, Michigan | Junior
It's not clear whether D.J. Wilson will actually declare for the draft as a junior, but if he does, he'll be one of the most enticing sleepers of the first round. He's a rangy wing who could see minutes at either forward position, and I came away from every Michigan game wondering why he wasn't a first–round pick. With that in mind, we'll send him to the Spurs laboratory and guarantee that he becomes a star.
30. Jazz (via Warriors): Jordan Bell, F, Oregon | Junior
Bell may not go this high in June, but he's exactly the sort of rim-protecting role player that smart teams love. The Jazz are smart, and as the rotation gets more expensive this summer, they'll need capable role players to fill out the roster. Here's to hoping that Jordan Bell cheers up soon. The tournament is over, but it's almost time for the draft.