As the NBA season concludes with the Golden State Warriors winning it all, lets shift gears and look to the future, and what better way to do that then evaluating the 2017 NBA Draft? This years class has the potential for greatness, with a bevy of skilled guards and a nice mix of versatile forwards, I don’t expect the rookie class of 2017 to disappoint. But who’s going where? Is Lonzo heading to L.A? Who are the Knicks going to get? Lets take a look.
1st Overall Pick, Philadelphia 76ers: Thanks to some last minute negotiation, the Philadelphia 76ers have once again landed the first overall pick, and it seems like Philly has their sights set on Washington guard Markelle Fultz. Fultz is one of the most highly touted players to enter the NBA in recent memory, and for good reason; in his lone year as a Husky, Fultz separated himself from the pack as not only an elite guard but as one of the best players in all of College Basketball. As a freshman, Fultz averaged 23 points, five rebounds, six assists, shot 47% from the field, a nice 41% from three, and averaged a player efficiency rating of 27.9. The 6’4″ 195 pound guard has good size for his position, is an efficient and skilled inside scorer, has a quick and consistent jump-shot, and has an extremely high basketball IQ. Fultz is also an elite-level athlete with an ability to rise above the rim with ease, an aspect of his game that will only enhance an already athletic Sixers roster. If drafted by the 76ers, I envision Fultz splitting time with Simmons as the lead ball handler on the squad, something he should be able to adequately do with his solid shooting ability. With that being said, there is a possibility for complications to arise for Fultz in Philly, as his playmaking and shot-selection could use improvement.
2nd Overall Pick, Los Angeles Lakers: For the second year in a row, the Lakers have finessed the second overall pick in the NBA draft…the only question is, who are they going to draft with it? As soon as the draft lottery concluded last month, everyone assumed the Lakers would be selecting Lonzo Ball out of UCLA with the second pick. With the way things are shaping up, I believe this was a safe assumption. Lonzo Ball is a big guard with a sweet outside shot and an ability to create offense for his teammates, and while Magic Johnson was never exactly a sharpshooter, I think that the new Lakers president of basketball ops wants the chance to mentor Ball. In his freshman campaign at UCLA, Ball put up some nice number; the face of Big Baller Brand averaged 14 points, six rebounds, nearly eight assists, shot a healthy 55% from the field, 41% from deep, and contributed 6.8 win shares to the team. And while many are enamored with Ball’s skill as a shooter and scorer, it is the Bruin’s ability to effect the game in multiple ways that will make him an NBA talent. Ball is an underrated passer with exceptional vision and a willingness to pass, a talent I believe will only be improved under the tutelage of Luke Walton and Johnson. If the Lakers do draft Ball, I hope and believe the young guard embraces whatever role his is thrust into as L.A. gears up for a rebuild. On the next level, I hope to see Ball mature physically so he can be a more adept defender and to see him transition into a more consistent shooter, as his shot proved to be somewhat streaky in college.
3rd Overall Pick, Boston Celtics: Another season and another year that Danny Ainge has proven why he is one of the best front office guys in the NBA. Ainge put together a team in Boston that not only made the Eastern Conference Finals, but a team that also had the number one pick in the draft before he unloaded it for the third pick and another future first round selection. But what will Ainge do with the third pick? I think I have an idea. With the third pick in the 2017 NBA draft, I think the best option for Boston would be to draft the wing scorer out of Duke in Jayson Tatum. As a freshman in Durham, Tatum had a nice season putting up 17 points a night, grabbing seven rebounds, getting two assists, and shooting 45% from the field and 34% from three. Tatum also boasted a 22.0 player efficiency rating and contributed 4.1 win shares over the season, showing how effective his play was for Coach K and the Blue Devils. Tatum is a big forward at 6’8″ with a deadly mid-range jump shot, solid athletic ability, underrated post moves, and a knack for getting buckets. His ability to play both the small forward as well as the small-ball four, coupled with his potential to space the floor with his shooting will be well utilized by a Boston team that could use a go-to second option. In the NBA, Tatum should look to improve as a defensive player, as he often loses focus on defense and can allow easy baskets. Also, if Tatum is playing the four position in the League, I expect him to have difficulty guarding some stronger power forwards as a 205 pound rookie.
4th Overall Pick, Phoenix Suns: Once again the Phoenix Suns have found themselves selecting high in the lottery, but unlike some of the previous teams I’ve discussed, Phoenix’s decision is going to be a bit tougher. At this point in the draft, especially in this years class, there is still a nice selection of players the Suns can get, it simply depends on what they are looking for. The Suns have the possibility to draft point guard De’Aaron Fox and pair him up with fellow Kentucky guard, Devin Booker. I believe this could be a match made in heaven, as Fox is already a very solid defender at only 19 years old with a respectable wingspan of 6’6″, as well as a proven playmaker who has showcased an ability to efficiently run an offense. In his freshman year under Coach Cal, Fox averaged close to 17 points, four rebounds, and four assists, while shooting 48% from the field with a PER of 22.0. Fox was also a critical member of the Wildcats success, as he contributed 5.1 win shares over the course of the 36 game season. I have faith that if drafted by Phoenix, Fox will have a nice role on one of the more underrated young teams in the NBA, helping the Suns eventually rise in the West. On the NBA level, Fox will need to continue improving his three point shot as he shot an abysmal 24% from deep over the course of his one year college career. As a side note, the next guy I will be talking about would also be a nice fit for Phoenix, and I can see him and Fox switching spots.
5th Overall Pick, Sacramento Kings: While I hope this is one of the last seasons the Kings are selecting in the lottery, I doubt it is. Regardless, Sacramento’s front office has a chance to get a player that can be a piece of their rebuild, a piece named Josh Jackson. Jackson is a 6’8″ small forward with elite level athleticism, a nice playmaking ability, has solid rebounding skills, and is a guy who is unafraid to make the hustle play. In my opinion, this former Jayhawk is not only one of the safest picks of the draft, but a player with one of the highest upsides in the draft. As a freshman at Kansas, Jackson averaged 16 points, a strong seven rebounds, three assists, averaged a player efficiency rating of 24.1, and contributed 4.9 win shares. The Kings are looking to rebuild around some of their young pieces, selecting Jackson with this pick would help this movement exponentially, as they add a player with excellent athleticism and a solid all-around game. It should be noted that in his lone year at Kansas, Jackson shot 37.8% from three, quelling any ideas people had about him not being able to consistently shoot. As an NBA player, Jackson should look to add moves to his offensive game, as creating offense against NBA wings is much harder than against college kids.
6th Overall Pick, Orlando Magic: This pick is quite possibly going to be a toss up, as the Magic are not the most reliable team when it comes to drafting. With that being said, I expect them to select FSU forward Jonathan Isaac with the sixth overall pick. The first thing you notice about Isaac is his length; at 6’10” 210, Isaac is a long, yet thin forward with solid athletic ability and a nice shooting form, an excellent combo in todays NBA. As a freshman at Florida State, Isaac averaged 12 points, eight rebounds, one assist, shot 50% from the field, 34% from deep, and boasted one of the better PERs in college hoops at 24.6. The Magic have been looking for a young versatile wing for years, if they select Isaac, I believe they will have found their guy. In the NBA, Isaac is going to need to work on being aggressive on both sides of the floor, add some weight to his thin frame, and improve on his defensive IQ.
7th Overall Pick, Minnesota Timberwolves: Unlike many of the previous teams on this list, I expect this to be one of Minnesota’s final years selecting in the lottery. And with the seventh pick in the draft, I think the Timberwolves would be striking gold selecting the forward from Arizona in Lauri Markkanen. As a seven footer, Markkanen posses an high level of agility that will help him both score and defend in the NBA. The Arizona product is also a big man that can score in a multitude of ways, whether this be scoring in pick an roll situations as the roller, or pulling up from the perimeter, Markkanen was one of the more versatile offensive players in all of the NCAA. As a freshman, Markkanen averaged 15 points, seven rebounds, and one assist, while shooting a stellar 42% from three shooting 4.4 deep balls per game. In 30 minutes a night, Markkanen was also very efficient, ending his collegiate career with a 25.0 player efficiency rating and an effective field goal percentage of 58%. The T-Wolves need a solid player at the power forward position, and with his ability to stretch the floor as well as score in a variety of ways, Markkanen would be a great fit. As he transitions into the Legaue, Markkanen will need to improve as a defensive player and rebounder in addition to adding muscle to his 230 pound frame.
8th Overall Pick, New York Knicks: As a New York native, I am genuinely excited about the options the Knicks have with this pick, barring any unruly and foolish actions by Phil Jackson. With the eighth selection in this years draft, the Knicks can either get dynamic scoring guard Dennis Smith Jr. out of NC State, or the Wildcat bucket in Malik Monk. For the sake of this mock draft and due to the needs of the Knicks, I will be selecting the former. Dennis Smith Jr. had an up and down year at NC State, as the Wolfpack struggled in the standings and Smith was plagued with questions regarding his character and shot selection. Regardless of all this, I am confident that Smith is a player ready for the NBA, and a player ready to help the Knicks. As a freshman, Smith averaged 18 points, six assists, four rebounds, recorded a PER of 23.1, and shot 35% from three. Smith is both one of the most explosive players in the draft, as well as one of the strongest guards in this class, a player that can blow by defenders as well as play the pick and roll effectively. And though we did not see enough of it in his lone year at NC State, Smith is a solid playmaker with respectable vision capable of making a play when asked to do so. I can only imagine how great it will be to see Smith and Porzingis killing teams as a pick and roll duo…unless old man Jackson trades KP. In the League, Smith will need to improve as a playmaker, work on his decision making, and improve his defensive effort.
9th Overall Pick, Dallas Mavericks: As the Mavericks begin preparing for the post-Dirk years, this selection could prove to be critical. While it is possible Dennis Smith Jr. slips to the Mavs, it is a bit more likely Dallas’ front office selects Malik Monk with their ninth pick. If you’re a Mavericks fan, this should be a gift, as Monk is a solid overall player and one the best shooters in this entire class. In 32 minutes a game under Coach Cal, Monk averaged 20 points, two rebounds, two assists, a steal, and shot 39% from three while attempting 6.9 threes a game. Simply put, Monk is a bucket. A guy with an extremely quick first step, Monk is adept at both getting himself open for clean looks or driving to the rim with authority. As a freshman, Monk also displayed his passing ability on numerous occasions, hitting the open man or a diving cutter for an easy basket, an aspect of his game that will help him remain in the NBA for years to come. If drafted by Dallas, I can see Monk getting the start at either the point guard or off guard spot, or simply being the go-to-guy off the bench for a team in need of some offensive flare. One major weakness to Monk’s game is his small size at 6’3″ something that may prove to hinder him in a League filled with large experienced guards at both the one and two position.
10th Overall pick, Sacramento Kings: The tenth pick from the Kings is one that is majorly dependent on what they do with the fifth pick, but if they do select Josh Jackson earlier in the draft, I expect them to either take big man Zach Collins or French mystery man Frank Ntilkina. While Zach Collins is a safer pick than Ntilkina, the Kings already have a somewhat crowded front court with the emergence of Willie Cauly Stein as well as the developing Skal Labissiere. After doing some extensive research, I have come to the conclusion that Ntilkina should be the Kings pick at this point. Ntilkina has all of the physical tools to be a very good point guard at the NBA level, at 6’5″ with a wingspan over seven feet, Ntilkina has the tools to be an elite defender today. On Strasbourg IG, Ntilkina’s French team, the guard averaged close to six points, two rebounds, and 1.7 assists, while shooting 39% from three in only 19 minutes a game. While these stats do not blow you away, Ntilkina is a player that needs opportunity to thrive, something he will have plenty of in Sacramento. As a big guard, Ntilkina can shoot and make plays over shorter defenders, he is also already a strong defender, and his size will allow him to not only play but also guard multiple positions. While I do not see the Kings starting Ntilkina in his rookie year, if they select him, I expect them to allow him to develop into a versatile lead guard and eventually, a large piece of their future. As he enters the League, Ntilkina will need to improve as a playmaker, improve his shooting consistency, and work on his ability to effectively and efficiently run a complicated offense.
Good luck to all these guys tonight, and thanks for reading.
All Stats via BasketballReference.com/DraftExpress.com
All Images via Google