2017 NBA Big Board 4.0: As Draft Picture Gets Clearer, De'Aaron Fox's Stock Rises
- The NBA draft picture continues to get clearer and Kentucky's De'Aarron Fox is shooting up our latest big board.
We break from your scheduled playoff programming with an urgent reminder that the NBA draft is two months away, the big picture is getting clearer, and that before you know it, we’ll be watching loosely associated team personnel open oversized envelopes and simultaneously enrich and crush the feverish dreams of multiple franchises in the process. With several of the league’s major markets picking near the top of the draft, if we’re lucky, we’ll get a fun conspiracy theory along the way. But first, a few notes.
— This is our fourth version of the Big Board, and there are changes and new faces. We’ve expanded to a Top 40, which is more indicative of which players are worth considering in the greater conversation in both rounds. As you’ve probably heard, this year’s class is deep near the top, but it’s also thick in the middle. There’s a great deal of talent on the table.
— Now that things are getting serious, please remember that the first rule of ranking prospects is that nobody ever really knows anything. Teams mess up a lot, players wash out quickly, and there are a billion variables that are impossible to predict in the long run. These are short-term choices and long-term guesses. Drafting is an inexact science that ultimately boils down to making the most informed, and hopefully least wrong, decision. This isn’t copping out for when these rankings look terrible in 10 years, just a fact about how the business works and a reminder to keep subjectivity in mind. Every team’s draft board looks different.
— Without diving into individual cases, notable players including Miles Bridges, Robert Williams, Grayson Allen, Chimezie Metu and Bruce Brown chose to defer their pro futures another year. There are plenty of underclassmen who are still undecided, and players have until April 23 at 11:59 p.m. ET to officially declare. Draft-eligible underclassmen who have not signed with agents have until 10 days after the draft combine (which runs May 9–14) to return to school.
— Remember that these are prospect rankings in a vacuum, unconcerned with team needs and situations and focused on talent projection and potential. See you at the combine in Chicago in a few weeks. Here’s SI’s Top 40 as of April 20.
Fultz stayed the course at No. 1 all season, and is highly likely to remain there as we enter the last leg of the draft cycle, offering a great blend of ceiling and floor, high-caliber bounce and quickness, and the ability to score, run the team and make others better. He’s not a perfect prospect — he’ll need to up his commitment on defense, continue to improve his jumper and corral his turnovers. Washington should have been better last season, but a new environment and NBA caliber teammates should allow Fultz’s gifts to pop even further. He checks all the major boxes for a lead guard and has a strong chance to become the best player in the class when it’s all over.
Tatum’s play over the back end of Duke’s season re-affirmed his pedigree: he’s the most developed scorer in the draft at this stage and made some strides in diversifying his skills and playing unselfishly. His ability to create workable looks for himself in tough situations stands out — we’ve seen players in this mold succeed before, and he’s big and long enough to play a bit of both forward spots. Tatum’s quickness allowed him to exploit mismatches, his skill level helps him to create separation, and his polish should help him make an impact early in his career. The knock here is that he’s not a Grade-A athlete or ball-handler, which may limit him attacking the rim and requires some smoothing over. He tends to be a ball-stopper and will have to be extremely efficient to warrant that type of usage and help his team win while doing it. Tatum’s overall profile leaves room for optimism.
Admittedly, this isn’t as much reflective of Fox’s stock rising as it is a major shift in opinion that was partially influenced by his stellar play down the stretch. When it comes down to positional size and strength, end-to-end speed, defensive instincts and highlight-reel talent, Fox may be tops in this draft class. He’s extremely competitive, aggressive and shone as Kentucky’s best player in the second half of the year. He’s offered plenty to suggest that he’ll be highly impactful regardless of the questions about his jump shot — which to his credit, doesn’t look broken, but will need addressing. Fox was not always an efficient scorer and is less polished offensively than Fultz and Smith (who also favor driving off the bounce), but in terms of pure malleable talent, there is a case for him to be selected even higher than this. The shooting issues give him a slightly lower floor, but the ceiling is massive.
Jackson is clearly the most well-rounded wing in the draft at this stage, and did his best to try and assuage some concerns about his jump shooting in the second half of the season. His strength and explosiveness allowed him to get where he wanted in college, and his calling card strength is first and foremost his defensive ability. Everyone needs two-way wing players, and Jackson has shown some ability to create his own shot while closely guarded and is a strong passer in transition. Nobody’s convinced he’s going to be a consistent NBA shooter yet, and he’s not built particularly well to keep playing prominently as a small-ball four at the next level. The overall package here is attractive, and like Fox, is tied to his jumper long-term. He can certainly impact the game without scoring, but Jackson also may never be a guy who carries your offense.
Smith might be the best one-on-one scorer in this draft — he was absolutely dominant efficiency-wise in isolation situations this season, and is built to attack the basket, draw fouls and help shoulder somebody’s offense. He’s also an exceptional playmaker off the dribble. Although he’s garnered less buzz than the other top point guards, these factors give him star potential, and he’s athletic enough to cut it on defense when it counts. It’s fair to wonder why NC State wasn’t more successful, but not as fair to hang that all on Smith’s shoulders. A better question is how he’ll fare against defenders who can match him step for step, and how consistent a jump shooter he’ll be. Smith should more than fill a need for someone and has a chance to be one of the best players in the class if it breaks correctly for him.
This ranking doesn’t mean Lonzo Ball is going to be a bad NBA player — on the contrary, he’s likely to be a pretty good one. But it does express some doubt over whether his ceiling is remotely as high as the overall narrative around him suggests. With his unorthodox release and trouble creating separation against top athletes, Ball is going to have some trouble creating his own shot. Even if he grows into a more assertive player on a nightly basis, it doesn’t mean scoring will suddenly come more easily to him. There are no questions about his unique playmaking gifts, but a ton of those “wow” moments came in transition, and when you boil things down to crunch-time, halfcourt situations, it’s fair to think Ball may not be the guy that gets you over the hump. He’s going to help his team win and make his teammates a lot of money, but there’s enough going on here to warrant some critical evaluation, at minimum.
Monk is the most polished perimeter scorer in this class, and his ability to get hot, stay hot and alter a game from three is as rare as it comes. His top-end athletic ability gives him an extra element of growth potential, and he’s got a more diverse skill set than what he was able to show at Kentucky. The issue remains how he helps you when he isn’t scoring, and as the season went on, we got a better idea of what Monk’s average nights look like. His lack of ideal size limits his ability to impact the game defensively, and that counts for something. It seems preordained that he’ll be fun to watch, but whether that’s as someone’s leading scorer or as a crucial bench player the question.
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The key to understanding Patton’s appeal this high is watching his early-season tape, which was full of eye-popping offensive moments and easy buckets that took place just outside college basketball’s biggest spotlight. Even with his (and Creighton’s) second-half regression, Patton’s offensive efficiency numbers remained among the best players in the country. His fluidity, touch, shooting potential, passing and shot-blocking are all off the charts for a guy his size. He’ll have to improve as a rebounder and embrace the rigors of the NBA regimen to maximize his talent, and though his growth curve is long, the potential reward here is tantalizing. Among players that can truly be classified as projects, Patton is the best one in the draft.
After showcasing a diverse, efficient game all season, Collins’ play down the stretch spoke volumes as he became more and more invaluable to Gonzaga’s impressive tourney run. He’s proven he belongs in the top tier of big men in this class, with a good sense of what to do around the basket, frame that should fill out nicely, and an extremely promising future on the defensive end of the ball. It also helps that Collins is far more athletic than he looks. He has most of the elements you want in a modern center, and his consistently focused play in March offered a wildly impressive glimpse into his two-way potential. His offensive ceiling isn’t as high as the other bigs in this tier, but he’s likely to be the best defender of the bunch, and is the easiest to project as a high-level starter.
In terms of pure talent and best-case projection, Isaac is up there with the best in this class. He’s a solid shooter with an ideal frame to handle the four who rebounds, blocks shots and doesn’t need the basketball all the time to be impactful. Isaac’s game-to-game scoring left a lot to be desired, though, and his desire to make an impact night to night has come into question. The role he carved out as a stellar complimentary player for the Seminoles (who featured ball-dominant guards) feels similar to how he might be utilized in the NBA if he’s unable to add and leverage strength and assert himself as a face-up scorer. He doesn’t scream superstar, but his all-around contributions and room for growth make him an attractive prospect.
Difference of opinion on Markkanen is in most cases tied more to his floor than his ceiling — his ability to shoot the basketball at his size (and do it in a variety of situations) gives him a ton of long-term upside. Talents like that are hard to find. For what it’s worth, he seriously faded shooting the three-ball down the stretch, which maybe had something to do with Allonzo Trier’s return altering the offense a bit. Some of those performances shed light on what he does when not sinking threes, and the answer wasn’t usually pretty — he doesn’t block or alter shots on a regular basis, was not as consistent a rebounder as you’d like for a 7-footer, and has a high center of gravity that makes it difficult for him to stay with athletic forwards. He’s not strong enough right now to bang consistently with bigs. The player you’re getting is likely somewhere in the middle, able to change games as a scorer but vulnerable in certain defensive situations and an occasional liability on the glass.
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.
Ferguson’s deep shooting ability as a traditional two-guard sets him apart among a relatively thin positional crop. He’s long, bouncy and profiles as a useful piece that most teams can fit into a rotation, a la Tim Hardaway Jr., provided his jumper grows more consistent. He’s still pretty skinny and will struggle defensively early on against stronger players. The questions many have are tied to a lack of productivity in Australia, which is understandable after skipping college entirely and learning to fill a pro role right away. He did develop some mid-post skills, and with his gift for scoring the basketball should benefit from workouts.
After three knee injuries in high school hampered the early stages of an extremely promising career, Giles chose to turn pro and take his chances while healthy, and who can blame him? He showed flashes of the player he was pre-injury as the season wound down, and remains a good rebounder and shot-blocker despite limited playing time. He should regain his offensive touch in time, if not all of his explosion and lift. Although Giles’ 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. His draft range is wider than most and highly dependent on his medicals, but on talent alone, he remains among the best in this class. Go watch some of his high school tape and you’ll see the full picture.
Anunoby’s season ended prematurely due to a knee injury, but with Indiana sputtering out and Tom Crean getting the axe, his choice to turn pro anyway made plenty of sense. His plus-plus potential as a multi-positional defender with crazy length keeps his value pretty high as long as his knee comes out clean, and having access to pro training staffs as his rehab continues should help with the recovery. Anunoby showed a decent three-point shot this season and remains a big bundle of upside, although he’s still learning to create his own offense. On his defensive potential alone, some team will be willing to wait.
After entering his sophomore year as a possible lottery pick, Rabb wound up a bit underwhelming. That said, he still averaged a double-double and offered solid production. The overall arc of his two years of school may be predictive of his role at the next level, where he should be a strong rebounder and able, if not spectacular or high-usage offensive contributor. Rabb 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 as an energy big. He also didn’t expand on the promise he showed as a mid-range shooter. Rabb’s strengths still look tailored for an NBA role, and he could be a nice buy-low opportunity if he slips into the 20s.
For all the hype, Hartenstein was a little underwhelming at the Hoop Summit, and although that was just one game, it offered a sense of his strengths and weaknesses. The German international possesses good size and some versatile offensive skills. Physically and for comparison’s sake, he gave off Euro-Plumlee vibes, but looks better suited to play center than at the four and has just average length for his height. He rebounds well, showed some mobility and passing skills, but has a strange release on his jumper that will hamper him without correction. Hartenstein has a lot of work to do to contribute as a scorer at the next level, and it’s not clear whether his somewhat unorthodox offensive strengths translate. There have also been maturity questions here in the past. The tools and possibilities as a versatile center will get him drafted.
One of the youngest players in all of college basketball — and also one of the more raw ones, Anigbogu’s tools are strong enough to get him picked in the first round regardless. His build, athleticism and comfort under the rim were impressive in limited playing time, and he has serious potential as a shot blocker and force anchoring the paint. His length and timing are off the charts. Anigbogu has a long way to go in order to contribute on offense, but he’s one of the most intriguing long-term investments in this class. And if you’re going to buy in on a project big, it’s better to buy young: Anigbogu won’t turn 19 until October.
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. One big board later, I’m still working on pronunciation.
Jackson’s contributions to the national title-winning Tar Heels were the icing on the cake in remaking his status as an NBA prospect. He was able to improve his jumper and displayed increased commitment on both sides of the floor, harnessing his considerable length on the wing and emerging a more confident player. Jackson has two-way potential, but isn’t exceptional scoring off the dribble and will need to play off of others to be more than a floor spacer and get to the basket effectively. His upside isn’t spectacular, but it’s easier than ever to see how he’ll fit in — and that’s a solid outcome given how much he’s grown.
It’s certainly true that Leaf and teammate Ike Anigbogu owe something to Lonzo Ball for how easy their college transitions were at times, but here’s a guy who never got quite enough credit for leading the Bruins in scoring. He’s an offense-first player, comfortable shooting with his feet set, making the right pass and staying active on the glass, and his versatility at his size stands out. Leaf’s a good athlete, but more in the vertical sense, and his quickness and lack of ideal length leave him potentially stuck between positions on defense — he’s built more like a small forward than a post player. Needless to say, athletic bigs who can shoot are in endless demand.
Swanigan’s rebirth as one of college basketball’s dominant stars over the last year was legitimately astonishing. With vastly improved conditioning and refined body, he became an intriguing pro prospect, able to step out and hit threes with consistency, utilize his length (7’3” wingspan and nearly 9’0” standing reach) on the glass, dominate with his back to the rim and help mitigate his lack of positional height. He’s an above-average passer and intelligent player who should be a dangerous option setting ball screens. Swanigan has proven a lot of people wrong, and if he stays in shape, has a solid chance to keep doing so. He struggled to make much of an impact on defense, which could limit him to centering small-ball lineups long-term.
Wilson’s path from under-recruited high schooler to little-used bench player to a starring role this season is a real credit to Michigan’s player development. He broke out in March and looked like a sleeper prospect all season, with great physical attributes, a nice shooting stroke and increasing comfort attacking the basket as a secondary scorer. He’s lithe and could beef up a bit, but also a solid lateral defender and weakside shot-blocker who could pan out into a prototypical, modern stretch-four in time. Wilson’s season was up and down, but his high points were often eye-popping. His rebounding and commitment to banging on the inside are the central questions.
One of the ACC’s most productive players and biggest surprises, Collins took a huge sophomore leap and stands to benefit from guys like Robert Williams and Miles Bridges returning to school and complicating this portion of the draft. He rebounds extremely well and shot 60% anchoring a decent Wake team in a very tough conference. 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. That said, his tools offer a safe enough floor as a rim-running big. He’s a bit of a project, but has a chance to become an effective contributor.
There’s little question that Allen’s one of the biggest projects in this draft. He began this season in our Top 30, fell off and returns now that the pool has crystallized somewhat. He made strides in the back end of the season, but leaves a ton to be desired in terms of court awareness, toughness and consistent approach. As it stands, Allen remains nowhere near ready for the NBA, but teams have rolled the dice on less convincing players in the past. His relative youth, touch around the hoop and physical tools as a legit center are still appealing.
Few would have wagered six months ago that Kennard would be the impressive Duke guard prospect turning pro. His breakout sophomore season put him in the first round conversation, showcasing an attractive blend of efficient perimeter scoring, decision-making and on-court intelligence. He’s easy to pencil in as a helpful NBA role guy, with teams constantly seeking shooters. Kennard will have trouble creating his own shot off the dribble against pro length and may have struggles on the defensive end, but displayed the talent and consistency to make a difference in the right landing spot.
Adebayo’s lost a bit of his five-star luster and may still return to Kentucky. He’s got a great build, works hard on the glass, plays above the rim and doesn’t eat up a ton of touches in order to be effective, but also doesn’t do too much else. His post skills aren’t far along, he doesn’t shoot jumpers very comfortably in games, and you can see his physicality paling a bit in comparison once he’s lined up against grown men every night. The big question is what else he can offer, and whether going back to school will unearth any new dimensions to his game. As-is, he’s still a useful role player.
After a strong, if occasionally inconsistent season at Louisville, Mitchell can either go back and lead a title contender, or try his hand in the pros, where his future is a bit more cloudy. He gets to the rim, can make set shots effectively and looks like a legit prospect on his best nights, but he was not always an efficient scorer and struggled in transition situations according to Synergy data. Mitchell could shine in a more defined NBA role with less offensive responsibility, and he’s bouncy and quick enough to do it. His improvement as a sophomore was noticeable.
Fresh off UNC’s Final Four run, Bradley’s an intriguing long-term play who’s been on this board before and just missed the cut last month. His no-frills game fit in nicely in a deep Tar Heels rotation, and he’s a strong positional rebounder with NBA size and improving instincts. Bradley’s not an above-the-rim type per se, and could benefit from another year of school and an increased workload as a go-to guy in the post — he averaged just 14.5 minutes per game this season, but posted a double-double on a per-40 basis. If he comes out this year, he’ll likely fall somewhere in this range.
Everything broke right for Ojeleye this season, and he’s played his way into the picture here after serving as the functional engine for a strong Mustangs team. The Duke transfer shone in his first season in Dallas, showing the ability to score off the bounce, shoot the three, attack the rim and get to the line with an NBA-ready body. Ojeleye still needs to prove himself somewhat on the defensive end, but it’s easy to see him sticking somewhere as a small-ball power forward who can create a mismatch with his quickness. As his skills come together, he may be able to play the three as well. He’s already 22 years old, and may be best served turning pro at this stage.
Lydon never quite broke out the way some hoped after last year’s Final Four run, but he’s still a strong shooter with size who rebounds well and possesses translatable strengths. He runs hot and cold, but his best days can swing games. Lydon needs to develop his body, particularly his lower half in order to bang inside in the NBA. His dimensions are better suited for the three, but he lacks the skill set off the dribble to handle the position at this stage. There’s role player potential here, but Lydon has to find a position he can defend. The Syracuse zone is rarely a helpful evaluatory tool, to say the least.
One of the top playmakers in this class, Evans had some remarkable performances this season and has the end to end speed and ballhandling skills to make up for his smaller stature. He opened the season on this board and may sneak into the first round if there’s a team in need of an extra lead guard. However, Evans will encounter early trouble finding ways to score against NBA length, and has a bigger learning curve ahead of him to become more than a change-of-pace ballhandler.
Peters was a known quantity all year, as far as mid-major stars go. He turns pro as one of the best players in Valpo history, improving his scoring and rebounding numbers in each of his four years in school and evolving into a dynamic scorer. Peters is a gifted shooter, has developed some post skills and profiles as a reliable specialist, though he lacks NBA length and lateral quickness at forward. He will have to find a way to stay on the floor defensively. That said, great shooters are in demand, and it’s hard to ignore his consistency and growth.
The German big man pulled his skill package together in the tourney and was impressive at utilizing his mismatch as a face-up four. He’s comfortable shooting the ball, young for his class and would be a nice value selection in this range if he stays in the draft. Wagner’s game isn’t especially well-rounded: his rebounding must improve, he’ll have to learn to play consistently against size, and defensive improvement and physical development will be critical. There’s some risk here. but his best flashes this season point to considerable potential as a scorer.
Alkins was a highly-rated recruit, but came to Arizona as one of the lesser-heralded guys on the team. A strong late-season showing cemented the Brooklyn native as one of the Wildcats’ most important players, playing a jack-of-all-trades role for Sean Miller. Reduced offensive usage on a deep roster often kept him from displaying his full scoring toolbox, and the way he embraced that role change should be viewed as a positive. Alkins isn’t a Grade-A leaper and can improve creating his shot off the dribble, but his versatile skills, strong frame and elite intangibles should get him picked if he stays in the draft.
Before an ACL injury ended his season prematurely, Sumner opened at 22 on our board. He’s continuing to rehab and remains a promising prospect, though it’s yet to be seen where exactly he’s at physically after the injury (it’s also worth noting he was forced to redshirt due to serious patellar tendinitis as a freshman). So long as he regains his burst, Sumner remains one of the more intriguing guards in the draft from an athletic tools standpoint. The biggest issue remains his shaky jump shot, which will need to improve regardless. He’s a high risk, high reward choice in this range.
Long, versatile wing players like Iwundu can play on pretty much any roster, and scouts are keen on his potential as a legit two-way rotation guy. He’s a legit point forward who excels working in pick and roll situations, often serving as K-State’s main shot creator in big situations. If he proves he can guard multiple positions and continues to improve his shooting (he shot a career-best 37% from three as a senior), he could help a team quickly.
Hart’s well-rounded, mature game combined with his size makes him worth a hard look for teams needing immediate backcourt help. He’s an effective playmaker with a strong makeup and showed improvement from year to year, although he lacks one calling-card offensive specialty at this stage. The other knock on him is a lack of explosiveness that can hamper him in creating space off the dribble and scoring around the basket. Hart brings a strong college pedigree to the table and offers a solid NBA floor, if not a sky-high ceiling.
White’s play generated plenty of buzz among scouts in attendance at the Portsmouth Invitational last weekend, and he’s put himself firmly in play as a second-round selection. The former Division II All-American transferred to play his senior year at Colorado and made waves as one of the most productive players (18.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists) and top defenders in the Pac-12. He’s a good athlete, big enough to stick with some shooting guards, shot 40% from three and has the talent to break camp somewhere and make a difference.
One of the most productive players in the Mountain West, Oliver presents high-level athleticism, rebounding and shot-blocking instincts, all of which help compensate for his undersized frame at the four. He shot a strong 38.4% from three while attempting nearly five per game this season, which helps a ton. You can see him developing into an bouncy pick and pop player or small-ball center down the line.