2017 NBA Draft: Ranking Best Guards Available

Who is the best guard in the draft: Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball or De'Aaron Fox? With the big day approaching, The Crossover breaks down the 15 best backcourt players available.
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Who is the best guard in this year's draft: Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball or De'Aaron Fox? We have the answer.

With the 2017 NBA draft rapidly approaching, The Crossover has ranked the 15 best guards in this year's class. The backcourt group is loaded with big names and bigger games, headlined by the three above. But there are even more prospects for NBA GMs to drool over including experienced scorers (Malik Monk), lottery sleepers (Frank Ntilikina) and instant impact players (Luke Kennard, Donovan Mitchell).

Without further ado, here are in-depth scouting reports on the 15 best guards in the draft, along with brief breakdowns on their backgrounds, strengths and weaknesses.

(Research and analysis provided by Jeremy Woo, Jake Fischer, Chris Johnson and Michael Shapiro.)

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1. Markelle Fultz, Washington (Freshman)

Stats: 23.2 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 5.9 APG, 47.6% FG, 41.3% 3FG

Bio: Regarded around the league as the consensus No. 1 pick, Fultz was a dominant individual player in his lone season at Washington, although the Huskies, with a relatively thin roster, underperformed as a team. He made first team All-Pac 12 and was a third team All-American. Fultz’s athletic tools and versatile skill set give him the draft’s best blend of star ceiling and consistent floor.

Strengths: Fultz jumps off the page athletically and possesses creative scoring instincts and playmaking skills. He’s an outstanding transition player, solid using ball screens and has the size to play both guard spots thanks to a nearly 6’10” wingspan. Despite how bad the Huskies were, Fultz was proficient in the pick and roll and as a passer. He’s a solid rebounder and developing jump shooter, and all the pieces are there for Fultz to become one of the league’s top guards. He’s an extremely well-rounded offensive player already.

Weaknesses: Although he has the tools to be a good defender, Fultz’s effort level occasionally wanes, and you’d like to see him renew his commitment on that end in the pros in order to maximize his talent. He can shoot, but could use added consistency in that area and might never be a high-end perimeter scorer, although he does enough things well that he may not need to be. He can occasionally come across as overly laid-back on the court, which combined with Washington’s frustrating season has sparked some minor questions about his competitiveness.

2. De‘Aaron Fox, Kentucky (Freshman)

Stats: 16.7 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 4.6 APG, 47.9% FG, 24.6% 3FG

Bio: Fox’s strong final stretch at Kentucky created serious momentum that’s lifted him into the upper tier of prospects. He partnered with Malik Monk to carry the Wildcats, making first-team All-SEC and winning conference tourney MVP. As an aggressive, hyper-athletic, defensive-minded playmaker, he stands as an intriguing point of comparison to Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball at the top of the draft. He’s likely to be drafted somewhere among the top five picks.

Strengths: The first thing you notice about Fox is his speed and agility with the ball in his hands, which was a game-changer at the college level. He’s light on his feet, loves to push in transition and has no problem finding his way to the rim, where he’s a creative finisher. He has the ability to be a standout defender with his lateral quickness and instincts in the passing lanes, and has solid size for his position. Fox is an intelligent kid with a vibrant personality that lends itself to on-court leadership, and his energy on both ends of the floor is often contagious.

Weaknesses: Fox must pull his jump shot together in order to become a star in the NBA. He’s left-handed, and his mechanics aren’t bad, but he struggled with confidence and consistency at Kentucky and will have to do enough to keep defenders honest and open the game up for himself at the next level. He probably won’t be a great shooter, but he can become a passable one. Fox also has extremely thin legs and a spindly lower body that will need to fill out.

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3. Lonzo Ball, UCLA (Freshman)

Stats: 14.6 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 7.6 APG, 55.1% FG, 41.2% 3FG

Bio: Ball (and his father) have been the talk of the pre-draft process, and there’s a major stir about Lonzo staying home and going to the Lakers at No. 2. Thanks to his unique playmaking ability and a consensus All-American season at UCLA, he won’t fall past the first few picks. Ball has as much upside as anyone in the class, given how much better he makes his teammates and his consistency as a three-point shooter, but he’s not without his flaws as a prospect. Whether he’s a superstar or just a very solid rotation player, he’s as good a bet as anyone to have a long, substantial NBA career.

Strengths: It’s impossible to deny the effect Ball’s simple presence had on the Bruins’ offense last season: he’s extremely unselfish with outstanding vision, and it rubbed off on his teammates. He has the potential to essentially be an enabler for a fast-paced, modern NBA offense, and that’s extremely enticing. Even if he doesn’t evolve into a go-to scorer, Ball’s good enough in transition and as a set shooter that he’ll remain a threat. He likes to gamble for steals in the passing lanes, and has the size to defend both guard positions. 

Weaknesses: Can you be a great point guard in the NBA if you can’t consistently create your own shot? That’s the biggest question surrounding Ball, who’s crafty but not especially quick or explosive. He also has unorthodox shot mechanics that make it difficult for him to pull up while attacking off the dribble. Ball’s shot is repeatable and should be fine when he’s unguarded, but creating space for it against athletic defenders in the halfcourt will pose a challenge. He may be well-suited as a team’s second-best player, paired with a go-to scorer who can shoulder the offensive burden. 

4. Dennis Smith, NC State (Freshman)

Stats: 18.1 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 6.2 APG, 35.9 3P%, 45.5 FG%

Bio: After being rated as a five-star recruit out of Trinity Christian School in Fayetteville, N.C., Smith enrolled at NC State in January 2016 but didn’t play that season while recovering from a torn ACL. He suited up for the Wolfpack in 2016-17 and quickly established himself as one of the ACC’s best guards. Smith led NC State to a stunning road win over Duke in January and was named the conference’s freshman of the year.

Strengths: Smith’s most intriguing trait is his athleticism, and there’s little doubt he’s regained most, if not all, of the run-and-jump explosiveness that made him such a coveted high school prospect. (He reportedly recorded a 48-inch vertical leap at a workout with the Lakers earlier this month.) Smith is an adept scorer who does well creating offense off the dribble and shows major potential as a playmaker. 

Weaknesses: The weakest point of Smith’s game is his defensive intensity, although it’s possible NC State’s sluggish play overall contributed to his effort on that end of the floor. He also lacks favorable length for a lead guard. Smith’s jumper isn’t broken (he sank 36% of his 153 three-point attempts last season), but he’s streaky, and it remains to be seen whether he can maintain his shooting range beyond the deeper NBA line.

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5. Malik Monk, Kentucky (Freshman)

Stats: 19.8 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 2.3 APG, 39.7 3P%, 45.0 FG%

Bio: Monk arrived at Kentucky as a top-10 prospect in the class of 2016 and promptly got to work justifying his towering recruiting hype, highlighted by a 47-point explosion against UNC in December. As half of arguably the nation’s top backcourt (the other being De’Aaron Fox), Monk led the Wildcats in scoring and earned both AP SEC Player of the Year honors and the Jerry West Award, which is given to the best shooting guard in college basketball.

Strengths: Monk is a prolific scorer who haunts opposing defenses with his shooting ability. Launching effectively off the dribble or off the catch, he knocked down 42.5% of his three-point attempts in SEC play last season. With an excellent first-step and the capacity to finish above the rim, often in spectacular fashion, Monk is far more than just a perimeter sniper.

Weaknesses: Monk’s physical profile limits his utility as a defender, and he hasn’t shown that he can offset those weaknesses with his effort or awareness on that side of the court. It’s also unclear whether he has the distribution skills to log major minutes at point guard, which would help mitigate his vulnerability on D.

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6. Frank Ntilikina, France (Age: 18)

Stats (All competitions): 5.7 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 1.6 APG, 45% FG, 39% 3FG

Bio: Ntilikina has long been considered the draft’s top overseas prospect, thanks to a blend of size, playmaking potential and athletic ability that could make him an outstanding defender and solid lead guard. He played around 19 minutes per game this season and his averages are somewhat skewed, but he stood out at the 2016 U18 European Championships and has plenty of potential in this range. In a thinner lottery, he’d have a chance to go higher in the draft.

Strengths: An extremely well-built ball-handler, Ntilikina is developing nicely as a three-point shooter and has an overall advanced profile at a very young age. He’s an aggressive defender who uses his length to create turnovers and pressure opponents. He’s long and has the the size to see over defenses and defend both guard spots. There’s a lot of upside here.

Weaknesses: Teams are working off a small, limited sample size, and Ntilikina isn’t the most experienced relative to a lot of guys who make the leap from Europe. He’ll have to adapt to the demands of full time point guard duty and prove he can produce once handed the reins. He’s not extremely explosive and likely won’t be a prolific scorer on a regular basis without marked improvements.

7. Donovan Mitchell, Louisville (Sophomore)

Stats: 15.6 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 2.7 APG, 35.4 3P%, 80.6 FT%

Bio: The Louisville sophomore broke out this winter, emerging from elite recruit to bonafide lottery pick. Before college, Mitchell led New Hampshire’s Brewster Academy to a 34-1 record and a second-straight National Prep championship as a senior. He thrived once again with the Cardinals as a lead guard following the graduations of Damion Lee and Trey Lewis. When he first declared for the NBA draft, Mitchell was widely considered a late-first round talent. But explosive performances at the combine and on the workout circuit have vaulted him up draft boards.

Strengths: At the combine, Mitchell posted the top three-quarter court sprint time, elite quickness and agility times, and also logged a 40.5-inch max vertical jump. At 6’3” with a 6’10” wingspan, Mitchell’s measurables bring promise for his ability to guard both backcourt positions and also switch onto some wings. A massive shooting improvement has helped his surge as well. Mitchell knocked down 35.4% of his 226 three-point attempts as a sophomore following a subpar 25% conversion rate on his 72 freshman tries. Converting 80.6% of his free throws provides some encouragement the shooting uptick wasn’t merely a mirage. 

Weaknesses: Mitchell boosted his profile playing more on the ball during his second season at Louisville, but some NBA evaluators are skeptical of his ability to truly play the point. Mitchell’s playmaking for others was also scarce in college. The improved shooting was erratic throughout the season and he lacks an overall polish to his game. The team that drafts him will be more bullish on his upside that what he will be able to provide right away. 

8. Luke Kennard, Duke (Sophomore)

Stats: 19.5 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 2.5 APG, 43.8 3P% 85.6 FT%

Bio: Kennard entered Duke as a vaunted shooting guard recruit out of Ohio and found a solid niche alongside Brandon Ingram and Grayson Allen during his freshman season. The 6’5” guard truly broke out as a sophomore, sharing lead ball-handling duties with Allen and turning into a legitimate sharpshooter from deep. Kennard logged heavy minutes for the Blue Devils and developed a reputation as a scrappy and heady player on both sides of the ball. 

Strengths: Kennard’s improved three-point shooting is what’s truly turned him into a lottery-level talent. After converting just 31.8% of his 173 three-point tries as a freshman, Kennard poured in 43.8% of his 201 attempted triples as a sophomore. His stroke is quick and compact and he’s shown an ability to score from all three levels in the halfcourt. His faculty to score off the ball brings hope he will be able to contribute right away. Kennard also flashed an ability to create off the bounce that has some scouts pondering his potential to play point guard. 

Weaknesses: While Kennard was especially crafty with the ball in his hands as a scorer, he managed just 2.5 assists per game and failed to routinely create for others. He wasn’t necessarily tasked with that role, but when Duke seemed to be searching for a point guard late during the season, NBA evaluators questioned why Mike Krzyzewski didn’t try shifting Kennard onto the ball more regularly. He’s not especially long and doesn’t possess elite athleticism. Scouts admire his tenacity but wonder if he’ll ever do more than simply compete on the defensive end.

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9. Derrick White, Colorado (Senior)

Stats: 18.1 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 4.4 APG, 50.7% FG, 39.6% 3FG

Bio: After an impressive season at Colorado, White is one of the best stories in the draft. He had no D–I scholarship offers, then rode a late growth spurt to becoing a Division II All-American before finishing out with the Buffaloes. He was the best player at the Portsmouth Invitational and among the most impressive at the draft combine, and has played his way into first-round consideration. White’s scoring ability and defensive potential give him a great chance to help an NBA team sooner than later.

Strengths: Five years ago White might have been viewed as a tweener offensively. Today, he’s extremely valuable as teams load up on strong ball-handlers with defensive versatility. He’s a strong athlete and capable playmaker but a scorer first and foremost, and excels both attacking the rim and spotting up for threes. He can run the pick-and-roll effectively. White is a rangy, aggressive on-ball defender and has the size to defend wings as well. His makeup is impressive, and he looks well-suited for an NBA rotation.

Weaknesses: White will turn 23 in July, so what you see is sort of what you get from a physical standpoint. He’s not comfortable playing without the ball in his hands yet and will have to learn the finer points beyond simply spacing the floor if he’s going to play the two for extended periods of time. He may not be strong or long enough to be a truly elite defender and will need to show redoubled effort on that end in the NBA.

10. Frank Jackson, Duke (Freshman)

Stats: 10.9 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.7 APG, 39.2 3P%, 47.3 FG%

Bio: After earning five-star grades from recruiting services as a high schooler, Jackson joined a Duke team that entered last season as the clear favorite to win the national championship. He was overshadowed by other players in the Blue Devils’ backcourt, such as veteran Grayson Allen and projected first-round pick Luke Kennard, but Jackson nonetheless drew plenty of attention from NBA scouts with his performance. He’ll reportedly sit out part of the summer after undergoing surgery for a stress reaction in his foot.

Strengths: Jackson is one of the most athletic guards in this class. (He ranked second at the pre-draft combine with a 42”  maximum vertical leap.) He also has favorable measurables for his position, standing 6’4’’ with a 6’7’’ wingspan. He possesses an explosive first step that enables him to power his way past defenders, and has shooting range that should translate to the NBA line, having hit 39.2% of his three-point attempts over one season with the Blue Devils.

Weaknesses: Despite his frequent success driving to the rim, Jackson hasn’t demonstrated that he can consistently break down defenders off the dribble. It also remains unclear whether he can be counted on to run an offense, as he’s not an advanced playmaker at this stage. That limitation could confine him to smaller, defensively tenuous backcourt pairings in which Jackson operates alongside a point guard.

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11. Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State (Sophomore)

Stats: 19.2 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 6.4 APG, 43.8 FG%, 37.9 3P%

Bio: Evans’s sophomore season earned him a slew of honors as he led the nation’s most efficient offense according to KenPom ratings. The Dallas native received All-Big 12 recognition and was an All-American honorable mention in 2016-17, carrying Oklahoma State to the NCAA tournament. Evans isn’t an imposing presence at 6’0”, 175 pounds, but his production in Stillwater speaks for itself. He ended last season as one of four power conference players to average 16 points and six assists per game, joining lottery talents Lonzo Ball and Dennis Smith as well as conference foe Monte Morris of Iowa State.

Strengths: One of the most impressive scoring guards in this draft, Evans is a wizard with the ball in his hands. He changes speeds with the best of them, able to fly to the rim in the open court. He’s aggressive when attacking the basket, shielding himself from the trees that collapse on him. Evans is also capable in the half court. He’s a classic pick-and-roll point guard, slithering off screens for open looks. Defenders can’t sag under and dare him to shoot, either. Evans shot 38% from three last season.

Weaknesses: Evans’s struggles in college stemmed mainly from his lack of size. He had a difficult time finishing over long defenders, often flinging up low-percentage looks. These issues extended to Evans’ passing, too. His tiny frame limits his vision, and defenders often trap him off the pick-and-roll. He’ll need to clean up his turnover percentage to be a viable starting point guard in the pros. ​

12. Edmond Sumner, Xavier (Sophomore)

Stats: 15.0 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 5.0 APG, 47.9% FG, 27.3% 3FG

Bio: A torn ACL ended Sumner’s season in January, leaving some injury doubt going forward for a player once considered a possible first-rounder. He should still get drafted, but his history of leg injuries, thin frame and reliance on his explosiveness raise some questions. He’s got great size and slashing ability as a lead ball-handler, but his overall profile leaves something to be desired. He’s a long-term hail mary of a selection.

Strengths: Sumner is a very good athlete and has tools that match up well with the majority of backcourt players in the class, including projected lottery picks. If he gets back to that pre-injury level, it gives him a chance to impact games with his energy on both offense and defense. He’s all projection, but he’s a good finisher around the rim and is a bit stronger than he looks. His assist numbers are solid.

Weaknesses: There are a lot of rough edges here, beginning with a shaky jump shot. Sumner didn’t make many strides in that area in college and is unlikely to ever be a prolific perimeter scorer. He can make good passes but can get sped up and struggle with decision-making off the dribble at times. His array of skills is well behind his athletic ability, and where he’s at physically is yet to be seen.

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13. Tyler Dorsey, Oregon (Sophomore)

Stats: 14.6 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.7 APG, 46.7 FG%, 42.3 3P%

Bio: Dorsey shined in the NCAA tournament, starring aside Dillon Brooks in Oregon’s first Final Four run since 1939. He averaged just under 24 points per game in tournament play, shooting 61%  from three. Dorsey is a shot maker with impressive range—and he’s not shy, either. He averaged seven three-point attempts per 40 minutes last year, and had seven games with five treys or more.  If he can bring his smooth stroke to the NBA, Dorsey will be a valuable asset for years to come. 

Strengths: The Ducks’ second leading scorer last year, Dorsey’s ability to connect from long range gives him a discernable NBA skill. If all else fails, he’ll still prove his value via the three-point shot. Dorsey shot 42% last year from beyond the arc, and impressed scouts with a string of strong shooting efforts at pre-draft workouts. He’s got a quick release off spot-ups, and doesn’t mind pulling up in transition. Whatever physical limitations Dorsey may have, he more than makes up for them with his devastating jumper.

Weaknesses: Dorsey really takes to heart the role of a shooting guard. When the 6’5” Dorsey gets the ball, he’s focused on going up. Too often Dorsey dribbles the air out of the ball and misses open teammates, and while the issue can certainly be fixed, it’s uncertain as to whether Dorsey will ever transition out of his score-first mentality. The Los Angeles native is also a bit of a tweener defensively. Dorsey is too slight to match up with a rangy shooting guard, but also too flat-of-foot to cover speedy point guards. He’ll need to divert extra effort on the defensive end to survive.​

14. Frank Mason, Kansas (Senior)

Stats: 20.9 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 5.2 APG, 49.0 FG%, 47.1 3P%

Bio: A stellar senior season earned Mason Naismith and Wooden National Player of the Year honors. That’s what happens when you’re the only player in Kansas and Big 12 history to average more than 20 points and five assists per game in the same season. The 5’11” senior is already 23, having delayed college a season to play prep ball at Massanutten Military Academy. 

Strengths: There might not be a more seasoned point guard in this draft class. Mason has been running teams longer than anyone else available, and his experience shows in guile and craftiness. He can manipulate pick and rolls, get to the rim in isolation and finish amongst the trees. He’s an absolute sniper from the outside, draining 47.1% of his three-point attempts as a senior. 

Weaknesses: What Mason has in skill he lacks in size. He measured under 6’0” without shoes at the Draft Combine and will likely struggle adjusting to the vastly superior size, strength and athleticism at the next level. A 6’3.75” wingspan should help him defensively, but at just 189 pounds, today’s bigger point guards will give him all he can handle. There are very few holes in his game, but Mason’s stature and limited athleticism should hinder him in the league. He’s not a poor athlete by any stretch—logging a 41” max vertical jump—but lacking elite athleticism at that size is a major deficiency. 

15. L.J. Peak, Georgetown (Junior)

Stats: 16.2 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.5 APG, 48.0 FG%, 32.7 3P%

Bio: Peak hails from Frank Underwood’s hometown of Gaffney, S.C. and improved during each of his three seasons at Georgetown. He immediately filled a starting role for the Hoyas en route to being selected for the All-Big East Rookie Team. Peak failed to earn a nod for any of the All-Big East teams this season, but opted to enter the NBA Draft regardless. His success was overshadowed by a poor Georgetown team’s overall season.

Strengths: Peak is a scorer. He was second for the Hoyas in scoring both of the past two seasons, posting 16.2 points per game this year. He’s shown the ability to shoot from deep—especially when he drained 40.9% of his threes as a sophomore—although he ultimately finished his college career knocking down 33.5% of his outside tries. Peak’s advantageous frame—a 6’4” shooting guard with a 6’9.5” wingspan should be able to transition to the next level well—and athleticism have scouts intrigued. Peak also showcased some passing skills this season.

Weaknesses: Peak’s skillset and potential may be outweighed by his inconsistencies. There’s no telling whether Peak can replicate that sharpshooting sophomore campaign or if he’s more of an average or below-average shooter. He turned the ball over at a less-than-stellar rate and playing for a losing team has certainly dampered his stock.