Season 1 Episode 4
Here is Part 1, which explains the process and also has the honorable mentions and 60-46.
A quick reminder that this was written before the beginning of the season and guys like Ivan Rabb and Jarrett Allen have disappointed early on, so they no longer would be rated this high if I was to do a big board today. However, I decided to not change any of the rankings. First off, because it’s something I can learn from when making these big boards in the future, but also because I felt like it would be dishonest to use information from the season under the guise of a “preseason” big board. Draft experts have been criticized in the past for changing their old big boards years later, with the bias of hindsight. So none of the words or rankings here have been changed, even if they no longer hold up today.
In this edition players 15-7 were ranked.
15. Frank Jackson G, Duke ’98 – Last summer, Frank Jackson’s play was originally disappointing at some of the Adidas camps and AAU tournaments. Playing mostly out of control on both ends, Jackson had a tendency to put up contested off-the-dribble jumpers and, in general, was inefficient. However, as the games went on his raw athletic ability was impossible to deny, even if he still didn’t look like a player that would be considered anywhere close to a lottery pick at that point. Yet he managed to take another step forward during his senior year in high school. His other worldly quickness and explosiveness became unstoppable as he learned to channel those talents in a more controlled manner. Jackson still has a long way to go with his shooting, though he’s been solid early on at Duke. He isn’t a selfish player, but is also still far from a natural playmaker. That being said, it’s getting harder and harder to picture him being unsuccessful in the NBA. There aren’t too many bigs in the world that can keep him in front in the pick-n-roll, even for a few seconds, so with shooters around him he becomes a huge threat with the ball in his hands. It’s also important to note that Jackson won’t be 19 until next May, making him one of the younger players on this list. The only question now is how Krzyzweski plans to use him. Will he decide to go with experience and start Matt Jones next to Grayson Allen in the back court or will Coach K gamble on Jackson’s talent and dare opponents to attempt keeping Jackson and Allen out of the paint. I’d opt for the latter choice, but Jackson is still raw and it’s possible that Matt Jones’ 3-and-D style is a better fit for this Duke team. If that’s the case, Jackson will possibly return for his sophomore year. With Jones and more than likely Allen both gone by then, Jackson should be able to put some gaudy numbers and perhaps be a lottery pick in 2018.
As an aside, I’m really excited for the 2018 draft. It’s a tough exercise to not overrate the young talent coming through the pipelines, but I think there is going to be a couple of potential franchise players in that draft. Overall, it won’t have the depth of this year’s class, but some of the top names like DeAndre Ayton, Michael Porter, Wendell Carter, Mohammed Bamba and Luka Doncic have huge potential. That’s before we get to guys like Dzanan Musa and Collin Sexton, as well as possible hold overs from this class like Jackson. Late in the first round the talent drops off a bit, and there probably won’t be really good prospects available in the 20s, like there should be this year. So depth against top heavy star talent seems to be the main contrast between 2017 and 2018.
14. Frank Ntilikina G, Strasbourg ’98 – As fun as Ntilikina is to watch, it’s a shame that he has become one of the most overrated prospects in this draft. His size and length to go with his youth makes for a fascinating mixture. However, he is yet to show much of anything out on the court, his main claim to fame being his performance at the 2015 European U18 championship. He was a year younger than most the competition and did a great job running the pick-n-roll while connecting for multiple lobs with teammate Johnathan Jeanne. Even then, however, he was still somewhat underwhelming, not really dominating, rarely driving to the rim, displaying limited physicality and often settling for tough midrange shots. The example I always use to put his draft stock into perspective is, imagine Dennis Smith, De’Aaron Fox or even Lonzo Ball in his place in that exact U18 tournament. The competition was good for a youth event, but any one of those three players would have dominated and put up huge numbers, while more than likely leading their team to a top-3 finish. France finished sixth. Ntilikina is quick but isn’t an overly explosive athlete, which along with a lack of strength makes it tough for him to get all the way to the cup to finish. He does play hard on D and the potential for further improvement as a defensive player is there. Right now he is especially effective using his length to bother shooters on close outs. Yet, so far his footwork and positioning still needs to improve as he at times gets beat by over committing to the left or right and often fails to anticipate picks and runs right into an opposing big man’s shoulder. He does a solid job of getting over picks when he is prepared for it and outside of these fairly small weaknesses, he is still expected to eventually become an above average defender with multi-positional versatility. His passing is considered by many his strongest skill, though he does tend to force it to the roll man, at times missing open shooters on the weak side. Even in that U18 tournament, I’d say he was the third best passer behind Vassilis Charalampapoulos and Edin Atic. Overall, as a playmaker, Ntilikina is nowhere as creative as Ball and is probably a half notch below Fox, putting him at about the same level as Dennis Smith. Ntilikina showed some nice potential as a shooter in the U18 championships as well and seems to have pretty solid mechanics.
I do think he’ll ultimately be a fine player. A more controlled, less dynamic version of Dennis Schroder is a possibility for him, but it seems like almost everyone else has him rated in their top-5 and going first overall was even mentioned as a possibility. My theory is that Ntilikina having a very endearing, likeable style of play makes it easy to overrate him. I love watching him play too, but you can’t get hypnotized by that and say that this guy is a top-5 pick, especially in a draft with this much depth and with some of the other type of talent available at the guard position. On a positive note, he’s the youngest player among all the prospects mentioned here, including the honorable mentions, so he has as much potential to improve as anyone.
13. Ivan Rabb F, Cal ’97 – Some players have such a special skill set that it takes many words to properly describe them. Ivan Rabb is the complete opposite of that. His game is so solid, but yet so plain that there just isn’t much to say. He does a good job in the post, shows effort fighting on the glass and is an underrated defender, able to switch out on perimeter players as well as protect the paint. It was a surprise that he came back for his sophomore season and as of this point it also doesn’t seem like the best decision. Rabb is a player with pretty clear strengths and weaknesses and staying another year will only lead to scouts further picking apart his game. This is also a strong freshman class, especially compared to last year, so Rabb can definitely see his stock drop a bit. The only way he substantially improves his position is if he all of a sudden develops an “en vogue” NBA skill. For example, becoming a promising three-point shooter or an elite shot blocker. Regrettably, at this stage, it’s highly unlikely that something like that happens.
There’s also a question of what Rabb’s best positional fit is, PF or C. He looks best as a small ball 5 but he has the quickness to play the 4, with the only problem being lack of range on his jumper. Domantas Sabonis is an interesting comparison for Rabb, as a successful college player who had questionable shooting ability coming out. If C-Bo Jr is able shoot the three well in his first season with the Thunder, Rabb’s stock may rise, as teams will possibly be looking to use him in a similar role.
12. Johnathan Isaac F, Florida St. ’97 – Isaac is one of the most intriguing players in the draft. He is someone who can rapidly rise on these rankings, just like he can easily slip down a dozen places pretty quickly. Certainly one of the bigger boom-or-bust prospects in this class. There are questions about what Isaac’s role will be at Florida State and how much he improves throughout his freshman campaign. During the summer of 2015 he showed signs of his huge ceiling, but is a player who is still developing and has a long way to realizing that potential. The intrigue around him begins with his perimeter skills and size. He is of the same lanky prototype as guys like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant and Brandon Ingram. Due to lack of core strength, at times it looks as if he is unable to gather the power necessary to unleash his full athletic ability. Hopefully the Florida State weight room program can bulk him up in the right places so that he can take full advantage of his natural ability. While we are yet to know if he is a good athlete or a great one, his perimeter skills are promising either way. He isn’t the shooter that Ingram and Durant were at the same stage, nor does he have the playmaking potential of Giannis. However, he combines a little bit of both of those aspects, in addition to solid defensive instincts and the potential to defend multiple positions. His ball handling is a work in progress but he has proven capable running the pick-n-roll as either the ball handler or the roll man (mostly the pop man to be exact).
He is unlikely to be quite as successful as Durant or Giannis but he can bring a value similar to Ingram’s, albeit in a different way. Isaac has a better frame than Ingram and should eventually become a pure PF, with the ability to hit open jumpers, post up smaller defenders, and find shooters and cutters as a passer. Ingram is a little shorter and skinnier, although he has even longer arms, and is more likely to be a combo forward who makes his living as a pure shooter. Neither player is an odds-on perennial all-star but down the line, but both of them can develop into indispensable role players and even starters for some of the best teams in the league.
11. Lauri Markkanen F, Arizona ’97 – Markkanen is my top “international” prospect, although he is technically a college player. The Finnish big is an absolutely automatic shooter and is a better athlete than people may think. He lead the U20 European Championship in scoring this year and looked like the best player in the field, despite being two years younger than most other competitors. His terrific shooting touch and nearly perfect form make him a prospect with a very high floor. He brings other attributes to the table as well. At the U20s, he was hedging out hard when defending the pick-n-roll and he displayed incredibly quick hands that allowed him to gather up large quantities of steals. His feet aren’t as fast as his hands, but are still well above average for a 7-footer. He isn’t a great shot blocker at this stage and will probably never be a great rim protector, but his skill set should fit nicely alongside a true big, who would ideally be a good rim protector. Finland mostly used Markannen on the perimeter and I didn’t see very many post ups from him, which was somewhat disappointing as I was hoping he would use his size to abuse smaller players in the paint. In the 2015 U18 he did play inside much more and displayed some good, if not great, post moves. It’s clear that he’s become a much better player over the past year in almost every way, so there’s a good chance his post-up game has also gotten stronger. Domantas Sabonis was selected 11th in the 2016 draft after spending two seasons at Gonzaga. The success he had as an international player at the college level seems to have inspired players like Markannen and Omer Yurtseven to play in the NCAA. Sean Miller has brought in a wealth of talent into Arizona this season and if Markannen is able to stand out among players like Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons, he could see his stock rise further and even possibly become a top-5 pick.
10. Jarrett Allen C, Texas ’98 – Allen is a true center in a time when most teams in the NBA are pretty set at that position. The reason Allen remains such an appealing selection in that environment is because he has the potential to become an elite rim protector defensively, while also sucking in defenses with hard rolls to the rim on offense. Allen is right between 6’11 and 7 feet with a 7’5 wing span, a 9’3 standing reach, and a vertical leap most likely somewhere in the 30s. Between him, Kerwin Roach, Andrew Jones and Tevin Mack, Shaka Smart has quite possibly assembled the most athletic college team in the nation. Jones and Roach both have NBA talent, but there’s no doubt Allen will be the centerpiece for this squad. On defense, he is the anchor and last line for Smart’s full court press. Offensively he uses his length and athletic ability to corral rebounds and alley oops that most aren’t able to get to. He’ll probably end up being one of the leaders in rebounds and blocks in the Big 12. He’s also still extremely young and, while having a post game is no longer a necessary skill in the NBA, perhaps he can develop a little 16-foot jumper that will further confound opponents. Easily the most important part of his game as far as his NBA potential will be his interior defense. Smart hopes that Allen isn’t only an excellent shot blocker but also one of the better defensive rebounders in the conference and that he has the quickness to stay in front of guards when necessary. If he is able to display that sort of immense defensive potential, it’s possible that even teams already comfortable with their center position will still give him a hard look.
9. Miles Bridges F, Michigan St. ’98 – Bridges is a bit of an enigma. When I first began to evaluate him in 2015, his shot selection and average length placed him a notch below some of the top players in this class. However, during his senior season he began to use his breathtaking power and leaping ability to become a much more dominant force. This development allowed him to be truly considered among the cream of the crop and made it impossible to deny his sky high ceiling. There’s still a tendency to take difficult perimeter shots that he could iron out, as he ended up below 30 percent as a three-point shooter at the Nike EYBL. At the same time, that confidence justifies a positive outlook on Bridges’ capability to display legitimate NBA range, perhaps even sooner than expected. He is as bouncy a prospect as there is and is much better moving laterally than one might expect from someone with a moderately husky physique. There’s no doubt that he’d be considered undersized at the PF position, even in the modern NBA, and using him as a full time SF would probably take away from his ceiling. However, as a sturdy, rugged athlete, he’s able to make up for less than ideal reach and still rebound at an excellent rate. His passing is often praised but could still use improvement and he’ll probably never be mistaken for a rim protector. Yet, the tutelage of Tom Izzo should help Bridges’ development and will hopefully alow him to continue generating more and more value from his talents. He’s also still a young player and the improvement he’s had in the past year is certainly an encouraging sign for future skill expansion. In the past, players with a similar body type have struggled with conditioning issues and strong training will be essential if Bridges is to reach his potential. You can’t learn how to jump high enough to touch the top of the backboard or how to be a powerful, explosive force while attacking the rim. Bridges is blessed to be in possession of those attributes, but his handle and jumper can and should improve. When they do, it’ll spell trouble for opponents while also providing a huge boost to his draft stock. That may seem like a lot of things to work on but Bridges is a grinder and most of the basketball skills mentioned are among those with the highest probability for development. He was terrific in Michigan State’s first exhibition game, finishing with 33 points and making several three pointers. Of course, that was against a Division II team and it’s possible that Bridges doesn’t develop as anticipated and decides to stay another year. No doubt, there’s a high range of possibilities for his draft stock at this early point of the process.
8. Malik Monk G, Kentucky ’98 – Monk seems to have become underrated by many of the other big boards. Granted, during this past season, Monk (or Eminem as I like to call him) didn’t have the sort of improvement that observers had hoped for and that some of his peers displayed. Still, he is as good of a scorer as there is in this class and an elite run and jump athlete as well. There’s been some concern about his lack of size for the SG position, but Monk has above average court vision to go with some quickness. At this point his handle is sloppy and his passes often lack accuracy, but potential for development in those areas isn’t out of the question. Even if he’s never able to be the sort of playmaker necessary to play the role of a ball dominant lead guard, players like Lou Williams and Monta Ellis have had very solid runs as undersized 2s and Monk is more athletic than either of those guys. Placing an emphasis on improving his defensive intensity would certainly be a huge boost to his reputation. He doesn’t have the ideal size to defend two guards but thanks to his excellent speed and quickness, he may be able to overcome some of his deficiencies by staying step-for-step in stride with his match up. Of course, there is a long way to go in this regard but it remains within his reach. As long he is able to improve upon some of these weaknesses enough to earn playing time at the next level, he should be quickly successful thanks to his electrifying scoring ability. He was born to average 20 a game even if his ability to do it efficiently is also still in question. It’s common for a star player coming out of high school to have poor shot selection and a tendency to drive into traffic, trying to create something that isn’t there. How quickly he learns to recognize these situations and starts making the right reads will play an important part in his future as a pro. In the 2015 EYBL season Monk made 34.6 percent of his threes on 127 attempts and 78.8 percent of his free throws. As a comparison, Jamal Murray shot 36.3 percent on threes and 80.0 percent on free throws and he’s considered one of the best young shooters in the world right now. Monk is also a clearly superior athlete to Murray and is a year younger as well. Murray stands a couple inches taller and the fact that he further cemented himself as a shooter last season at Kentucky helps his cause. However, when Monk’s 42 inch vertical and straight line speed are added to the equation, he has to be at least as good a prospect as Murray. That being said, it’s still a bit concerning seeing that in that same 2015 EYBL run, Monk actually shot more threes than free throws. This goes back to shot selection and it is my hope that Monk focuses on improving his handle and using his quickness to get to the basket to draw fouls, as opposed to settling for contested jump shots. Conditioning will play a part and if Calipari and the rest of the Kentucky staff can help Monk add strength, while also improving his stamina, that could give him the boost necessary to provide the type of value his natural talents imply.
7. Lonzo Ball G, UCLA ’97 – Any incoming freshman is tough to judge. Gauging the potential of prospects is difficult even after seeing them play in college, let alone just watching high school games. AAU may be a disorganized environment but at least it provides the opportunity to observe players among a pool of similarly talented prospects. So as tough as it is with most freshmen, it’s even harder with Ball, since he played a very low amount of high-level AAU basketball. Instead, he mostly stuck to low level tournaments near his hometown, playing for a team that his dad created, with his brothers as teammates. Furthermore, both his AAU team and high school played a radical, high-paced style, pushing the ball at every chance, taking 30-foot three-pointers early in the shot clock and frequently throwing no look full court passes. Their defensive scheme is also a sight to behold. Shaka Smart’s full court traps are added to Jason Kidd’s aggressive rotations in the half court and then turned up to a hundred. Ball played large minutes in these games and was often both the point guard, as well as the team’s top rim protector. He is clearly in excellent shape and while he isn’t an elite athlete in the mold of a Russell Westbrook, he is perhaps underrated in that regard. All that being said, along with his brothers and talented ninth grader Onyeka Okongwu, he helped his high school to an undefeated record against some of the best teams in the country. By the end of the year they were considered the mythical national champions by most outlets. This success, combined with his unique style of play, helped generate tremendous hype around what will probably be a one-year term at UCLA. He has an extremely awkward jumper that goes in at a decent rate but will more than likely need to be rebuild once he gets to the next level. Even though UCLA plans to speed up their offense in order to accommodate his style, he’s likely to have a steep learning curve within a more organized system. At the same time his passing skills are undeniably great and his court sense is elite. He’s a true PG, standing close to 6’5, with a frame that looks like he can, without losing much quickness, add another 20-30 pounds to it.
It’s interesting to think about the Lakers selecting Ball if they retain their top-3 protected pick, since he has spent most of his life playing on the west coast and then committed to UCLA. He and D’Angelo Russell would make for a compelling pairing in the backcourt. Both large point guards, known for their superior court vision. Coming from the Warriors, I’m sure Luke Walton wouldn’t mind further speeding up the offense and with those two plus Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle, the Lakers would be a really fun young team with a bright future.