Season 1 Episode 1 “Pilot”
With the college basketball season nearly upon us and some international leagues already over a month into their seasons, it’s a good time to bring out the pre-season addition of the big board. Brandon Jefferson posted his top 25 a couple weeks back and I strongly suggest checking it out. This will be a ranking of the top 60 prospects, along with 30 others listed as honorable mentions. Since dropping the entire thing in one piece would make for an awfully long read, it’ll be split up into five parts, posted one at a time as the college season starts over the next week. This first part features the 30 honorable mentions and prospects ranked 60-46.
Some disclaimers: All players that could possibly make themselves eligible for the next draft under the rules of the current CBA, were considered. Notable exceptions being guys that are sitting out the year because of transfer rules (ex. Malik Newman) and players that are redshirting due to injury/eligibility issues (Omari Spellman, Ray Smith). Of course, players that won’t be of age to enter the next draft despite already playing college ball, Udoka Azubuike comes to mind, are not considered. As news come out about possible changes in the CBA regarding draft eligibility, future editions of the big board are liable to change accordingly. No current high school players were considered for this edition. If in the future, players like Hamidou Diallo become likely to attempt entering straight out of high school under the “Thon Maker Rule,” subsequent big boards will take that into account as well.
Lastly, as always, this big board disregards what teams/GMs are likely to do, as well as the public reputation of players and is based solely on my own opinion and evaluations of their potential as prospects.
The honorable mentions are listed below in alphabetical order, along with the projected playing position, team and birth year of each player. The birth year is listed as opposed to college class since age has proven itself as a much more reliable way of measuring career arcs, making it more relevant in this situation.
Braian Angola-Rodas SG, Florida St ‘94
Edin Atic SG, AEK Athens ‘97
Jaylen Barford SG, Arkansas ‘96
Kavell Bigby-Williams C, Oregon ‘95
Trevon Bluiett SF, Xavier ‘96
Chris Boucher PF, Oregon ‘93
Dillon Brooks SF, Oregon ‘96
Jalen Brunson PG, Villanova ‘96
Javin DeLaurier PF, Duke ‘98
Vince Edwards SF, Purdue ‘96
Jacob Evans SG, Cincinnati ‘97
Terrence Ferguson SF, Adelaide ‘98
Isaiah Hicks PF, North Carolina ‘94
Malcolm Hill SG, Illinois ‘95
DJ Hogg SF, Texas A&M ‘96
Chase Jeter C, Duke ‘97
Peter Jok SG, Iowa ‘94
Luke Kennard SG, Duke ‘96
Sacha Kileya-Jones C, Kentucky ‘98
Arnoldas Kulboka SF, Baunach ’98
Rodions Kurucs SF, FC Barcelona, ‘98
Dedric Lawson PF, Memphis ‘97
JaQuan Lyle PG, Ohio St. ‘96
Svi Mykhailiuk SF, Kansas ‘97
Shake Milton PG, SMU ‘96
Cam Oliver PF, Nevada So.
LJ Peak SG, Georgetown ‘96
Malik Pope PF, San Diego St. ‘96
Melo Trimble PG, Maryland ‘95
Robert Williams C, Texas A&M ‘97
Many of the players above have the potential to rise into the first round if they have strong seasons. Some of the others may not have that ceiling but also have a smaller chance of completely falling out of the draft conversation, as they have already proven to be solid contributors. The actual draft being a crapshoot is a common refrain, not to mention a preseason big board. These names are certainly worth following and aren’t necessarily fringe prospects, despite not making the top-60.
In the actual big board, in this first edition, prospects ranked 60-46 are listed, along with some brief comments for each prospect.
60. Tyus Battle SG, Syracuse ’97 – Battle has great size for a SG at 6’5 with a 6’8 wingspan and perhaps can even grow into a SF down the line. He projects as a nice defensive player and has displayed very solid effort on that end when I saw him several years back at FIBA u17. The reason he is down at 60 is he hasn’t participated in many AAU tournaments in recent years, so I’m not especially familiar with his development, making this is a risky pick. He can easily rise on this list but he could also fall completely off of it. Needs to work on his ball handling and playmaking skills.
59. Tyler Davis C, Texas AM ’97 – Davis doesn’t necessarily resemble a modern NBA player, especially in a time when more and more teams are trying to go small and push the tempo. However, he was instantly one of the best big guys in the SEC as a freshman and is a better defender than people realize. If he is able to stay in good shape and add some versatility to his offensive game, he has a chance to become a solid back up big for someone in the league. Davis probably won’t enter this year but when he does, even if he doesn’t get drafted, expect him to find his way on to a team.
58. Theo Pinson SG, North Carolina ’95 – Pinson’s length and athletic ability is certainly NBA caliber. Unfortunately, he has shown very limited ability to hit jump shots in his college career so far. Outside of being inaccurate, the mechanics on his jumper also aren’t great. If he is able to improve as an all-around shooter, his stock could really rise since many NBA teams are looking for long wings that have his sort of defensive potential. Overall, the need for wings, along with the oversaturation of big men on NBA rosters seem to be one of the biggest themes in this draft. It’ll be really interesting to see how NBA teams react to these circumstances. Will wings be drafted above their projected standing or will most teams continue to draft the best players available?
57. Payton Pritchard PG, Oregon ’98 – Pritchard has nice court vision, a smooth shoot and should be an instant improvement over Casey Benson at Oregon. As a player right now, he is only slightly below Dennis Smith, Lonzo Ball, and some of the other top PGs in this class. Him being ranked this low stands to show the depth of this class. Unfortunately, his inferior athletic ability and length leaves him with a finite ceiling compared to other top prospects his age and to an extent stunts his potential for future growth as a player. He is still very young and being unlikely to enter the draft in 2017, is a sleeper to keep an eye on in the future.
56. Johnathan Motley C, Baylor ’95 – Motley is expected to step into Taurean Prince’s shoes this season by becoming Baylor’s top offensive option. However, it’s improvement on the defensive end that will probably be much more important to his draft stock. It’s always tough to evaluate defensive potential within Scott Drew’s 1-1-3 zone but the type of development Motley displays as a rim protector is what will ultimately determine his perception among draft scouts.
55. Carlton Bragg PF, Kansas ’95 – Bragg didn’t play huge minutes last year but has nearly elite mobility at his size and some ability as a pick-and-pop threat out to 18-20 feet. Expanding his range to the college three-point line should help him solidify a spot in Bill Self’s rotation. Born in December of 1995, he is quite old for a sophomore and is still relatively raw. Bragg’s stock could also easily decline, especially if he is unable to earn consistent playing time and continue to learn the defensive concepts necessary to his development.
54. Aleksandar Vezenkov SF, FC Barcelona ’95 – Vezenkov should be able to get more consistent minutes in Barcelona this season. He was unbelievable as the top option in the Greek league two seasons ago but last year coming off the bench and no longer being his team’s top option, he struggled to find a niche within the offense. He is listed at 6’9 now by most places, which suggests that he could play some PF down the line. His lack of athletic ability will really hurt him in the NBA but if he is able to hit threes and make some occasional plays off the dribble, he could be a solid piece off the bench for someone, along the lines of a Nemanja Bjelica. He’s had a better start this year, but if he turns in another disappointing season, it’s still possible that he falls completely out of the draft conversation.
53. Monte Morris PG, Iowa St ’95 – One of the most dependable lead guards in the country, Morris should be a steady back up for years at the next level. He’s notorious for his excellent ball security and is one of the best at controlling the pace of the game offensively. Being able to hit the NBA three and perhaps becoming more consistent on the defensive end will be the two areas where scouts will want to see improvement from Morris. Those skills would make him more valuable without the ball in his hands, since he probably doesn’t have the ceiling necessary to be a top offensive option at the next level.
52. Moses Kingsley C, Arkansas ’94 – Even though he was miscast as the top option for a depleted Arkansas team, Kingsley had his breakout season last year. He helped lead them to some surprising victories in SEC play and certainly got his name on to the NBA’s radar. With Jaylen Barford and several other top junior college players now on board, Kingsley should be relieved of some of the offensive load and it would be nice to see him become a dominant interior defender at the college level. Once again, one of the recurring themes of this year’s draft will be, how satiated big men depth is in the current NBA. At this stage, outside shooting and rim protection are the two skills that teams value the most in big men prospects. Kingsley showed an average midrange touch but it’s his rim protection that will probably make or break his draft stock.
51. Edmond Sumner PG, Xavier ’95 – Sumner hasn’t impressed me nearly as much as he has other draft media, as he has been ranked as high as the top 15 in some online mock draft iterations this summer. At 6’6 with excellent speed, there is no doubt he has a huge ceiling, especially as a versatile defender who’ll potentially be able to switch between all three perimeter positions. However, since he redshirted his freshman year, he is going to be 21 in December, at the same time being still far from having the skills necessary to be a productive NBA player. A poor man’s Dante Exum is a comparison that comes to mind.
50. Andrew Jones PG, Texas ’97 – Seeing Jones briefly at Nike EYBL in 2015, I wasn’t overly impressed by him but he has since gotten several glowing reports from people whose opinion I value, including my Small-Ball colleague Brandon Jefferson. Shaka Smart has done an admirable job of recruiting NBA-level athletes at almost every position and Jones certainly fits that mold. At 6’4, if he displays the playmaking skills necessary to identify himself as a PG prospect that can really help his stock. The fact that he reportedly greatly improved throughout his senior season in high school is also a positive sign, as players that do so usually continue to improve at a more rapid rate than their peers.
49. Caleb Swanigan C, Purdue ’97 – With AJ Hammons graduating, Swanigan should become the top option in Purdue’s post heavy offense. He is certainly skilled as a post player and has a solid midrange jumper, but his shot selection and all around decision making was lamentable even for a freshman. He is somewhat undersized for a center at 6’9, but if he is able to become a stronger defensive presence, his length should help him overcome some of the height issues. “Biggy” has a great story and is a great kid from everything that’s been written about him, so I hope he makes it but he has a lot of kinks he needs to work out for now. Unless he experiences an unexpectedly huge jump in production, it’s likely that he comes back for another year for the Boilermakers.
48. Raymond Spalding C, Louisville ’97 – Spalding showed some great potential last season, thanks to his length and ability to quickly cover ground on the defensive end. He is clearly still learning the ins and outs of the game and fundamental improvements will be necessary for him to improve his stock this year. He is another case of a solid center prospect, that may be undervalued this year because of the sheer amount of talented big guys available, both already in the NBA and in the draft itself. Becoming a threat as a roll man in the pick-n-roll is another skill important to master for Spalding.
47. Josh Hart SG, Villanova ’95 – Hart will certainly be one of the best players in the country this year and should help Villanova once again dominate the Big East and contend for the Final 4. However, he isn’t dynamic enough as a ball handler and playmaker to ever be an offensive star in the NBA and his lack of size will likely keep him from becoming an elite wing defender. Hart should still be able to defend most SGs and even some PGs, he certainly does not lack for toughness and his last name is suggestive of his game. However, for him to carve out a consistent role at the next level, he’ll probably need to become a well above average spot up shooter. He is a career 38 percent three-point shooter in college but he hasn’t really shown the ability to hit shots from NBA range and even at the college line, he’s still streaky. There is some concern about Hart going the way of college stars like Shabazz Napier and Mateen Cleaves, and struggling to make an impact in the NBA. Hopefully, he is drafted into the right system and is able to carve out a role for himself.
46. Felipe dos Anjos C, Real Madrid ’98 – What do you know, another center. Teams like the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers struggled all offseason to attract the sort of assets they expected in exchange for their big men and so far have failed to free up the clutter of centers on their depth charts. Several other NBA teams have more than one starting caliber center on their rosters as well. Meanwhile, this is yet another draft with many talented big men. Some GMs still believe that you can never have too many good bigs, but most of the league has come to realize that versatile wings with the right size are the prototype truely necessary to succeed in the current environment.
At 7’2, dos Anjos is huge but is as fluid as it gets at his size. Clearly, he is still learning the game and may never become a very good offensive player, but his defense has already been absolutely dominant in European youth play. He has impressed with his ability to move his feet and get in the way of opponents attempting to penetrate the paint. He also doesn’t unnecessarily chase blocks, something young players with his size are at times prone to doing. He is getting some of the best coaching you can get outside the NBA over at Madrid, so he is likely to not declare for at least another year and even than may be a stash candidate.