Season 1 Episode 3 “The Flashback”
Part 3 is players ranked 25-16.
25. Borisa Simanic PF, Crevna Zvezda ’98 – Simanic has played over 1,100 minutes in various youth tournaments over the past three years and has shot 38 percent from behind the three-point line. That’s very impressive for a player so young. Teenagers don’t usually shoot a high percentage from the perimeter. For example, Terrance Ferguson is known for his three point shooting but his percentage has hovered around low to mid 30s in the various youth events he appeared in, prior to this season. Simanic is also about 6’9 with good length and well above average mobility. He can handle the ball and pulled off some impressive behind the back and crossover dribbles in past competitions. On the defensive end, he has good timing as a shot blocker but so far hasn’t shown much else. His toughness and physical strength is questionable at best at this moment. He certainly has a tendency to be pushed around on both ends and outside of blocking shots, doesn’t really use his size much. His lack of productivity in the paint is easily one of his biggest weaknesses. There is also some worry about players from Serbia peaking at an earlier age in recent years. Young players training in Serbian basketball schools begin to lift weights at an earlier age and often develop ahead of their peers early on, only to see that development stall once their hit their 20s. Of course, this should still be looked at mostly on a case-by-case basis but it is something to consider. Otherwise, Simanic is a great prospect and seems to be somewhat overlooked by draft observers that mostly rank him as a mid-second round choice.
24. Mikal Bridges SF, Villanova ’96 – Bridges was an unheralded recruit coming out of high school and redshirted his freshman season, but during Villanova’s run to the national championship last season he became an integral part of the team. His length and activity on the defensive end was a sparkplug for the Wildcats and helped add versatility on that end, allowing ‘Nova a wide variety of line ups. At 6’6 without shoes, with a 7-foot wingspan, Bridges has the perfect size for an NBA wing and with the potential to maybe even play some small ball power forward, provided he adds some muscle to his thin frame. He isn’t an elite athlete but his length, motor, and fluidity makes up for the lack of big time explosiveness. His jump shot will be the area that scouts will look for him to improve upon the most. If his percentage on college threes jumps into the high 30s, he becomes a legit 3-and-D prospect, a commodity that’s especially valued in today’s NBA.
23. Tony Bradley C, North Carolina ’98 – Bradley is yet another potential sleeper in this incoming class. It’s important to note that he’s unlikely to enter the draft after his freshman season. The UNC starting front court is pretty set and while Bradley is likely to be the first player off the bench on this roster, his production will likely be held back by lack of touches and playing time. Since he isn’t really a hot name on most preseason big boards, Bradley would really have to defy expectations in order to become a first round pick. More likely is a scenario where Bradley returns for a second season and takes over for Kennedy Meeks in the starting line-up, becomes one of the more productive bigs in the ACC and then enters the 2018 draft. However, this edition of the big board isn’t attempting to account for the likelihood of entry into the 2017 draft or playing time issues and is simply based on overall talent. With the high floor he has at his young age, Bradley deserves a spot in the top 25. He has a strong combination of feel and skill as an interior scorer and rebounder, combined with a strong work ethic on the glass. Bradley isn’t explosive or especially lengthy at his height but moves well, has a nice frame, and plays hard on both ends of the court. He is a player that’s unlikely to become an outstanding rim protector or a versatile defender capable of consistently guarding perimeter players at a high level, yet he should eventually be above average at both aspects. One of the more intriguing potential skills Bradley has is his perimeter shooting. He didn’t shoot a lot of threes for his AAU team but displayed good touch and a smooth shooting stroke. I was especially impressed with his turn at the Elite 24 three-point contest. Due to his quiet nature and lack of one outstanding skill, he doesn’t immediately jump out on the court, but, over time, his consistency and ability to contribute in multiple areas makes him a very valuable player. He’s got a long way to go, but his versatility as a big man makes him a player to watch.
22. Isaiah Hartenstein PF, Zalgiris ’98 – Hartenstein had 21 point, 13 rebounds, and four blocks, playing a total of 59 minutes in Zalgiris’ first three games in the Lithunian league this year. He hasn’t gotten a lot of playing time since then and has had some issues with foul trouble but since he only turned 18 in May, those are still some impressive numbers. Like Bradley, he is a versatile big man but with a personality type that’s the complete opposite of Bradley’s. Hartenstein is a very emotional player out on the court, often overreacting to the decision making of his teammates, arguing foul calls and failing to get back on defense. These signs of immaturity along with a tendency to go for the homerun play offensively are currently the biggest weaknesses in Hartenstein’s game, but aren’t nearly enough to overshadow his enormous talent as a 6’11 big with a great frame and the offensive skill set of a guard. Hartenstein contrasts Bradley’s intelligence as a cutter with terrific ball skills. He is able to knockdown jump shots off the dribble fairly consistently, has a solid post game, and displays well above average court vision at his size. As mentioned earlier, he does at times over estimate his abilities, throwing passes that have no chance of being caught and taking extremely difficult shots. He clearly has no conscience as a shooter and doesn’t lack for confidence in the slightest. His ability to take bigger players outside and to post smaller players is something that NBA talent evaluators consider extremely valuable. On the other hand, he is a mixed bag defensively at this point. At his size he is actually alright in small spaces but isn’t the fastest guy and runs the floor somewhat awkwardly. He also lacks the length and instincts necessary to be an above average rim protector. He’ll barely be 19 around the 2017 draft, so the issues around his immaturity on the court are something that he can probably work out as he gets older. However, unless he shows drastic improvement defensively, he may be somewhat of a liability on that end throughout his career. This makes it tough to justify him as a top-15 pick even with his potential on offense.
21. Rawle Alkins SG, Arizona ’97 – Alkins was excellent on the AAU circuit in the summer of 2015 and had many recruiting experts rank him as a top-10 player in this deep class. Since then, there has been some disappointment surrounding his senior season, as he delivered an underwhelming performance after transferring to Word of God in North Carolina and was reportedly out of shape throughout the season. Watching Alkins play, his unbelievable physique immediately stands out, but while his strength is impressive at this age, it also adds potential for weight issues in the future. If Alkins is to reach his ceiling, he will need to be on top of his conditioning and training regime throughout his career, even more so than most other professional athletes. He has said that he’s never lifted weights until recently, so hopefully the weight room at Arizona will bring the best out of his imposing frame. Otherwise, it’s almost unbelievable how underrated he has become. Tyreke Evans and Lance Stephenson are two players that have been compared to Alkins in the past but I’d say that Rawle is as good as both those guys were at the same stage with even more potential in some areas. He’s a better shooter than people probably realize. Although his shot selection has at times been questionable, his mechanics aren’t bad and as long as he can limit off the dribble, hand in face threes at Arizona and take more open shots with his feet set, his percentages may be surprising to some extent. While his ability to create off the dribble both for himself and others remains Alkins’ most intriguing skill, he has also flashed potential as a lock down defender in the past and Sean Miller is the type of coach that should help emphasize that part of his game. Rawle is a much better athlete than people give him credit for, he is a lot more explosive around the basket than Evans ever was, and Tyreke was still a very good NBA player before a recent string of injuries put his career in jeopardy. If Alkins is able to stay in shape and work on his defense, while showing the ability to contribute without dominating the ball on offense, he is someone that can easily rise up the draft boards.
20. TJ Leaf PF, UCLA ’97 – Yet another freshman that doesn’t seem to be as highly regarded on other mock drafts. I’d argue that if his name was TJ Leafovich and he was dominating junior tournaments in Europe, he’d have much more hype right now. It’s kind of funny that he actually played for the Israeli U18 team in 2015 and was named MVP of the Division B European championships, while leading his team to a silver medal and a nearly undefeated record. Sure the competition isn’t top notch at that level, but the U18 B division is where prospects like Svi Mykhailiuk and Jakob Poeltl made their names. In fact, since Mykhailiuk hasn’t done much in his time at Kansas, his current reputation as a draft prospect is largely a product of his performance at that same level.
In August, UCLA traveled to Australia to play a couple amateur and professional teams in Sydney and Melbourne. The trip was supposed to be a coming out party for Lonzo Ball and he flashed some signs of brilliance, but at times also struggled to adjust to the Bruins system, after spending most of his life playing within the enigmatic scheme that his high school and AAU teams both employ. Instead it was Leaf and Aaron Holiday that stole the show. TJ showed off his ability to run the court and handle the ball, and displayed defensive potential thanks to his underrated length and mobility. It’s interesting to note that Sean Miller called out Steve Alford for supposedly poaching Leaf from the Wildcats, but seeing the Bruins play, it’s easy to understand why Leaf felt like he’d fit right in with their up-tempo game. The playmaking skills of Ball and Holiday certainly don’t hurt either. As long as Leaf is able to show some value as a defensive player and prove that, in time, he could at least be average on that end at the next level, he has all the makings of an effective modern big man. As a comparison, Kelly Olynyk has really surprised some people with how successful he has been for the Celtics and Leaf may have an even higher ceiling.
19. Wenyan Gabriel PF, Kentucky ’97 – Gabriel is becoming the slept on member of this Kentucky class. There are rumors that Calipari plans to use him as a SF, which will probably hurt his stock in the same way that it may have hurt Trey Lyles. Gabriel has n0where near the offensive skill that Lyles had and he probably will never be the type of scorer that Lyles is starting to become. However, defensively, Gabriel is a much more promising prospect than Lyles. Gabriel is just as long and mobile, but has also done a great job protecting the rim in AAU play and plays with a much higher level of intensity than Lyles. The player that may be a better comparison for Gabriel is actually Serge Ibaka. Gabriel isn’t quite as tall and long as Serge is, but in today’s NBA he shouldn’t have any problems playing the PF position and should fit right in for most teams, being the rare player that’s able to both protect the rim and stretch the defense with his outside shooting. He probably won’t ever be the shot blocking menace that Ibaka has been throughout his career, but his ability to move laterally allows teams to freely switch between positions and not worry as much if Gabriel is left guarding a quick perimeter player. His jump shot is streaky at best at this point, but he has solid enough mechanics and looks confident out to the college line. If he is able to shoot in the high 30s down the line, he might become a high end combo forward and even as just a 33 percent shooter, the threat of his jumper along with his confident demeanor should be enough to stretch opposing defenses and create space for his teammates. Gabriel is going to be 20 next March so he is a bit further along on the age curve than some of the other top freshmen. However, he is still adjusting to a relatively recent growth spurt which helps him radiate a higher ceiling than most prospects his age.
18. Grayson Allen SG, Duke ’95 – Certainly there are reasons to doubt Allen. He is a bit undersized for the SG position and his ability to play PG is questionable at best right now. Coach K plans to give Allen minutes at the point this year because, as talented as the Duke front court is, they don’t have a true lead guard on the roster. Allen excels as an efficient, high usage scorer, but hasn’t shown much proclivity in the floor game. Alas, that type of player has often been a bust in past drafts. However, Allen stands out from many in that group thanks to his off the charts athletic ability. As long as he is able to show improvement on the defensive end, there are several paths that Allen can take to become successful at the next level. He is an excellent shooter, but not quite the pure knock down type that players like JJ Redick and Buddy Hield are. At the same time, Allen is a much bigger threat attacking off the dribble than either off those players. It’s easy to see him as a future secondary ball handler on a good NBA team, and possibly even the second best scorer. I’d like to see him quicken his release a bit, but otherwise he already has NBA range and as long as he isn’t being guarded by an elite defender, he is usually able to beat opponents off the dribble. Furthermore, even though he’s small for a wing, he’s big enough that his height shouldn’t be a long term issue. Without calling anybody out, players 6’2 and under are the high usage players that usually have problems in the NBA. At 6’4 with well above average quickness and a nearly elite vertical leap, Allen shouldn’t have too many issues. Seeing him play PG next to someone like James Harden or Jimmy Butler is another possible future for Allen. His below average length would no longer be a concern if he’s defending point guards. He has the quickness to stay with almost anyone, even though he needs to continue to improve his footwork, positioning and effort. Butler and Harden are terrific players, but more NBA teams than you’d probably think have excellent playmakers at positions outside the PG. The Sixers with Ben Simmons is another example where Allen would be a perfect fit as the nominal point guard. With that said, Allen needs to work on taking advantage of his athletic ability on the defensive end, and hopefully at least showing some semblance of point guard skills this season.
17. Thomas Bryant C, Indiana ’97 – Bryant is probably the second most surprising returning college player, since many experts believed he had a solid shot at getting picked in the first round of the 2016 draft. With excellent length and an array of offensive moves as a post player, a roll man or even as a spot up shooter, there is no question Bryant has the talent to be an impact player. The questions around him are mostly concerned with his defensive ability. He was prone to some horrendous low lights when defending pick-n-rolls and at times it seemed like he had never been taught basic defensive concepts. He has the length to be an effective shot blocker and he improved his positioning as the season went on and showed some potential for further development. Still, it’s clear that he is very far away from being passable as an NBA defender and this summer he reportedly didn’t defend well at Adidas Nations, his footwork being especially problematic. It’s worth noting that despite these misgivings, his offensive numbers were great at Nations, so he was still able to contribute.
There are some critics that have called him a “dinosaur” back to the basket player, which I strongly disagree with. Bryant is a good post player, but he has no problem playing in the pick-n-roll and can even handle the ball a little. He was actually hitting threes at a solid rate in high school. For better or worse, Tom Crean preferred Bryant in the paint, so we didn’t get to see that too much last season, but hopefully he’ll be more effective in this regard during his sophomore campaign. Bryant also looked awkward running the court last season but doesn’t move too bad in smaller spaces. He is just so raw with his defensive fundamentals that it becomes fair to wonder whether he will ever be good enough defensively to make a positive impact overall. To be fair, he won’t be 20 until late next July and most of his issues are things that could be developed with good coaching. Perhaps playing next to Anunoby, Bryant picks up some of OG’s defensive feel and intensity. If he is at least an average Big Ten defensive center by the end of the year while steadily improving his impressive offensive arsenal, Bryant could be a lottery pick next year.
16. OG Anunoby SF, Indiana ’97 – No one is a bigger OG Anunoby fan than me. I even wanted to name my son OG before I realized that we were having a girl. At one point this summer I put together a quick big board to gauge my own feel for some of the prospects. Anunoby was ranked eighth. However, working on this more serious, and hopefully more accurately, I had to put away my homerism. There is plenty to love about OG, but realistically there are also a lot of unanswered questions. He didn’t start getting consistent minutes until the second half of the season and even then he was coming off the bench and playing less than half the game. There is no doubt that his natural tools, defensive intensity, and instincts are absolutely off the charts. That’s how he made his name as a prospect and he became an especially hot name among draft media after absolutely shutting down Jamal Murray in their round of 32 match up.
Unfortunately, his offensive skills are mostly just ideas and ones without much of a tangible base at this point. He shot 45 percent from outside the arc last season, but on a total of just 29 attempts. While his mechanics are decent, it’s clear that he isn’t yet confident in his jump shot and has a long way to go as a shooter. His physical tools make it seem possible that he becomes a dynamic ball handler at some point, but once again this is something that only exists in the imagination of talent evaluators like myself and currently isn’t really a part of his game. Outside of attacking the glass and using his length to convert the type of put backs that not many players his size would even attempt, he wasn’t very assertive offensively.
So as much as I love OG, there is a concern that the hype around him gets out of control and sets people up for future disappointment. If Anunoby isn’t a knockdown shooter or a dominant scorer from the wing this year, people shouldn’t feel underwhelmed. As long as he continues to dominate defensively and make unbelievable plays on that end, while also using his athletic gifts to be effective in transition, he should be fine. There’s still an extremely high ceiling, comparable to Kawhi Leonard, there for OG. Remember where Kawhi was at this age? Not to forget how raw Anunoby is for now and that most players don’t reach their absolute ceilings. The good thing is, at worst, Anunoby should still develop into an excellent defender with a slightly below average offensive game, perhaps a rich man’s Andre Roberson. That isn’t a bad thing at all and there isn’t a returning player in all of college basketball this season that’s going to be more exciting to watch than OG.