Depth is Key in 2017 Draft Outlook

Four of the point guards drafted in 2011 (Reggie Jackson, Kemba Walker, Brandon Knight and Kyrie Irving) have become dependable, starting-level players in the NBA. The 2012 draft gave us Damian Lillard and not much else in the way of lead guards, followed by the 2013 Draft class that saw Michael Carter-Williams win rookie of the year but stagnate in his development in recent seasons. Unless Elfrid Payton from the 2014 class shows signs of considerable improvement, he may be a year or two away from joining MCW’s company as well. Emmanuel Mudiay and D’Angelo Russell of the 2015 draft have plenty of talent but a long way to go. Finally, Kris Dunn was the 5th pick in the 2016 draft and had an excellent summer league. I’ve already seen several experts call him the “lab-made version” of the perfect Thibs PG.

It’s too early to give a complete evaluation on any of these guys careers; Chauncey Billups, for example, didn’t begin his prime until his 30s. However, after the illegal defense and hand-checking rule changes, and the spread pick-n-roll revolution spearheaded by Mike D’Antoni and Steve Nash, perimeter playmakers became more valuable than ever. Analysts and scouts alike referred to the last several seasons as the golden age of the point guard.

Unfortunately, the lack of talent at the position over the course of the past few drafts has been somewhat alarming. CP3 is 31, Kyle Lowry turned 30 and Steph Curry and Westbrook are both 28; should we be worried about the next generation of little guys? At least in this early stage, the 2017 draft seems to be the class that refutes those concerns. Over the past two years, forwards Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Josh Jackson have become the holy trinity of 2017 mocks, but right behind them are playmakers like Lonzo Ball, De’Aaron Fox, Dennis Smith, and Frank Ntilikina. Additionally, players that are more comfortable as combo guards at this stage, but have shown the potential to run an offense, include Malik Monk, the underrated Rawle Alkins and Markelle Fultz, who–thanks to his play in recent events–has made a run at being the top overall prospect.

The 2016 Draft will probably be remembered as a weaker class in the future; slotted between the big man revolution of 2015 (Towns, Porzingis, Okafor, Turner, Jokic etc) and the perimeter influx of 2017.

Another coveted area of the 2017 class has been the overall strength of the talent. I think that this perspective has been somewhat mischaracterized by those not as familiar with some of the incoming college freshmen. When a draft is considered “strong”, it usually implies an especially top heavy list of players. However, from what I’ve gathered, there may not be any true superstars in 2017. It may not be the second-coming of 2003, where LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade were all in the top five.

All the top players have their own weaknesses. Josh Jackson is older than many sophomores and in more organized environments, against good competition, his inability to shoot has really hurt him. Harry Giles has had two ACL tears in the last two years. Dennis Smith is coming off an ACL of his own. Some (myself included) say it’s better to have that injury when you are young, dubbing it the “Tommy John of basketball”. Still, two ACL tears at such a young age can’t be a good sign.

Jayson Tatum is the guy I’ve considered as the top prospect for quite some time. Recently, however, I’ve began to notice that, while he is still working on extending his shooting range (even though his mid-range touch is excellent), he somewhat lacks elite explosiveness off the dribble. That’s a shortcoming that certainly hurts his future ceiling and upside.

Among other top prospects: Lonzo Ball has never played outside the funky system that his dad invented, with a defensive scheme even more unusual than their high-powered offense. He also has extremely questionable shot mechanics. Frank Ntilikina may have a lot of tools but hasn’t really dominated in European youth competitions, where most top American prospects look unstoppable. Malik Monk is a bit overlooked in my book but some scouts question his ceiling and point to the lack of development he showed between his junior and senior season.

As I mentioned earlier, Markelle Fultz has emerged as possibly the top player for 2017 but he doesn’t seem dominant enough in any one area to necessarily become a guy you can build a championship squad around. Of course, the big boards will be shuffled around constantly over the next year. When all is said and done I’m not confident that any of these players become consistent All-NBA level guys. There is at least six to seven guys that could be legit number one pick contenders and about 20 more players that could be lottery level talents.

I don’t have my big board ready just yet, but I do want to quickly mention OG Anunoby (love this kid, trying to convince my baby moms to name our unborn son OG), Thomas, Bryant and Ivan Rabb as the 3 best returning prospects.

The strength of this class is certainly its depth and overall talent–not just the star power of it’s top three or four players. Teams that will have high lottery picks next year need to realize this, and plan for this. The 2018 class is the one that seems to have five or six potentially really great top prospects but slim pickings after that group. Certainly the overall depth of this 2017 class is exciting, and I can’t wait for this year’s college season to get a better read on a lot of these guys and begin putting together my big board.

Here is a guide to preseason events that I was able to find for college teams with especially draft-intriguing rosters:

  • UCLA and Washington will play against some young players in Australia in August. Last year, Cal and Kentucky played in the same event and the games were available to stream. This should be a great chance to catch an early glimpse of Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz.
  • UCLA will play on August 23 and Washington will play on August 8th. Of course, Fultz as well as Texas big man Jarrett Allen already played earlier this summer in the FIBA Americas U18 tournament. There were a bunch of great 2018 Draft prospects on Team USA as well. You can find the all the full games from this tournament on FIBA’s YouTube channel.
  • Coach K is of course at the Olympics, and Harry Giles is still trying to get fully healthy, so we will have to wait until at least late October to see him and Jayson Tatum in action.
  • Unfortunately FIBA has indefinitely shut down their European Under-18 Championships due to the political climate in Turkey. We will see if they do them later in the summer or at all this year.
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