Every year we hear about the quality of the upcoming NBA Draft as if the future has already been foretold, as if every player has a predetermined NBA career as soon as their name is called on that magical night in June.
The 2003 NBA Draft was always going to be elite (and was), the 2004 Draft was supposed to be solid at the top end (it turned out okay), and the 2013 NBA Draft was supposed to be a dud (it has given us Giannis Antetokounmpo, C.J. McCollum and a host of solid role players).
The discourse around this upcoming draft class is very much about the elite-and-possible-franchise-pillar-talent at the top of the draft, and a depth which filters all the way through to the middle of the second-round, as outlined in our first-round mock draft.
Yet, is it possible to provide a more vivid example of the quality of this incoming draft class? We can, by using last year’s draft as a comparative tool; by combining the two, a more visible demonstration of the talent from this years class is feasible.
Welcome to the Lottery for the 2016/17 Combined NBA Draft.
As with any theoretical comparative discussion, we first need to lay down a couple of ground rules. The goal of the combined draft class is to compare the talent and not the likely landing spots in a theoretical draft. So, what follows is a draft big board, a ranking of players based purely on best player available principles.
For the 2016 class, I have taken the selections as they were, whereas with the upcoming draft – for obvious reasons – I’ve used The Four Point Play’s own current Big Board. This should provide us with the most vivid comparison in the early talent of the two draft classes (albeit tainted by my opinion).
The rookie season for the 2016 class is totally disregarded. This will minimize the variables between the drafts and provide the soundest basis for comparison. Therefore, we don’t factor in Kris Dunn’s underwhelming rookie year, nor does Malcom Brogdon fly up the draft board from pick 36 to pick 3.
And that’s it, there are no more rules.
#1 Markelle Fultz (PG/ WASHINGTON/ HT: 6’4 WT: 190)
The reason why Fultz will be the number one pick in the 2017 NBA draft is the same reason he is picked one in our combined draft. Simply put, there are no major perceived weaknesses in Fultz’s game. Yes, in a perfect world he would have demonstrated more consistency – especially on the defensive end – but that’s knit-picking at its finest. And yes, his Washington Huskies went 9-22 for the year, and lost the last 13 games to finish the season, but Fultz never packed it in at any stage and his supporting cast was woeful. Fultz can play both guard positions, and projects as the right-handed equivalent of play-making machine James Harden. Some will claim that Simmons is more applicable as a number one overall because his unique versatility trumps Fultz’s lack of a standout unique attribute, but Fultz is the prototypical, can’t miss franchise cornerstone that deserves the number one overall for the combined 2016/17 NBA Draft.
Both Simmons and Ball have similar strengths and weaknesses when painted with a broad brush. Both have point guard abilities at well above average point guard height, and primary weaknesses exist defensively. Simmons has proven that he can defend at a high level, but only when he’s fully engaged defensively and Ball, whilst by all no means no slouch (1.8 steals per game in his only year at UCLA), had a tendency to be blown away by quicker guards, such as when De’Aaron Fox torched Ball and UCLA for 39 in the NCAA Tournament. Both also have question marks over their jump shot. For Simmons, it’s very much about his ability to make shots past 15 feet, whereas for Ball it’s about how effective his weird shooting mechanics will be in an NBA environment; regardless of his percentages or demonstrated range at the collegiate level. However, whilst Ball sees the court with Jason Kidd-like vision – a once in a generation ability – it is Simmons ability to play point guard through power forward that taps into the trending multi-position, bordering on positionless style of offence that sees him being selected with the second overall pick in the 16/17 Combined NBA Draft.
In many ways Josh Jackson and Brandon Ingram are two opposites for a small forward, though both have a gigantic NBA ceilings. Ingram was and is sleight, can be and has been blown over by stronger bodies in both the collegiate and pro environment with as little as a sneeze, but has a polished offensive game and at 6’9 with extend-o-arms and athleticism, he can play 1 through 4; at least offensively. Josh Jackson however is an Adonis like physical specimen at 6’8, strong, muscular, competitive and athletic. The questions are over his unpolished offensive game – specifically his jump shot – but that has shown remarkable improvement over the course of his freshman season at Kansas. It’s hard to separate them, but the uniqueness of Ingram as a potential Durantula 2.0 and being younger than Jackson sees him get the nod.
#6 De’Aaron Fox (PG/ KENTUCKY/ HT: 6’3 WT: 170)
De’Aaron Fox has all the traits to make it as a top line point guard in the league. Height at 6’3, quick as lightning, savvy point guard skills (especially finishing in the lane with various floaters in his arsenal) and a proven big-time performer in big games for Kentucky as a freshman, such as the already mentioned 39-point explosion against Lonzo Ball’s UCLA Bruins. His jump shot is the biggest question mark on his immediate NBA future, but his technique isn’t too bad. Kris Dunn may be the best 2016 draft comparison, but Fox is talented enough to stand on his own.
Jaylen Brown is similar in ways to Josh Jackson taken at #4 in our combined 2016/2017 NBA Draft. Both are athletes first and foremost with a proven ability to get to the rim and score. Brown demonstrated a decent if inconsistent jump shot for California in his freshman year, but he lacks the creativity and basketball IQ that is a prerequisite for a dominant go-to scorer at the NBA level. Jayson Tatum on the other hand has both the creativity and basketball IQ; which may be the highest of any wing prospect in the combined draft, yet he lacks an elite level athletic profile. He is no slouch by any stretch, but the lack of an explosive first step projects him to be a handy wing sidekick for a top flight NBA team. For this reason, and on the back of the college-to-NBA improvement of players such as Paul George whom had similar queries about creativity and basketball IQ prior to his selection, Jaylen Brown goes one pick higher.
Both Bender and Isaac seem to embody the big-man revolution that may just be on the NBA horizon; multi-skilled offensive beasts that provide flexibility and multiple line-up options for teams. Isaac is very intriguing for that reason. He is nowhere near ready for the physical requirements to enable him to play consistent minutes as an NBA big with a massive need to add strength. But Isaac’s skill-set – both as a shot blocker defensively with his length, and his offensive repertoire and shooting range – will see him picked high in the 2017 NBA Draft. Bender on the other hand, whilst not harboring the defensive potential of Isaac, was a readier NBA specimen, having played with the big boys in the Euroleague since his mid-teens. That added certainty combined with his high ceiling means he is the preferred option of the two.
Kris Dunn falls to #11, and the reason is best understood when comparing him to De’Aaron Fox. Fox is quicker, younger and had a more proven track record in big games than Dunn’s three years at Providence. Dunn may have a great physicality about him at 6’4 and 200 pounds, but he also didn’t show the natural point guard instincts that Fox did, nor does he have the shooting ability required to play the 1. But then – as is now – Dunn’s potential to be at the very least a defensive juggernaut at the PG position deserves recognition. Dennis Smith Jnr is different again from Fox and Dunn. An instinctive scorer first and foremost, there are questions as to whether that fits in with the modern utopian NBA point guard. However, his potential to become an elite point guard in the league still shined through at times for NC State. Both Dunn and Smith’s potential as top flight NBA point guards see the obvious question marks about their immediate transition to the big time wash away, but Dunn as a bigger, stronger, more modern prototypical point guard just edges out Dennis Smith Junior.
A pair of shooters fall to the final two picks to round out the lottery of the 2016/17 Combined NBA Draft, and similar to other positional pairings between the two drafts, Malik Monk and Buddy Hield prove to be an interesting comparison. Monk the budding young freshman, and Hield the heady senior. Monk is a streaky shooter, that shows potential as a solid scorer, whereas Hield was a solid scorer who developed a trusty shot. But the potential of Malik Monk as a Lou Williams like spark trumps that of Buddy Hield, despite Hield’s importance to the Sacramento Kings’ future. It is this comparison that for mine really demonstrates the major difference between the two drafts, the amount of potential that exists right through the likely 2017 NBA Draft lottery is greater than that of it’s 2016 counterpart. It is that potential that sees Monk selected above Hield.
#15 – Jamal Murray #16 – Lauri Markannen #17 – Zach Collins #18 – Frank Ntilinka #19 – Marquesse Chriss #20 – Jakob Poeltl #21 – Thon Maker #22 – Domantas Sabonis
#23 – Justin Jackson #24 – Taurean Prince #25 – OG Anunoby #26 – John Collins
#27 – Jarrett Allen #28 – Justin Patton #29 – Ike Anigbogu #30 – TJ Leaf
The incoming 2017 Draft class proves to have the better potential on face value than its predecessor. The number 1 and 3 overall picks land in its favour, as do 6 of the top 10. Ultimately, 8 of the 14 lottery picks in our theoretical combined big board fall to the incoming class, and 18 of the entire first round. It’s that potential depth that could make this draft one of the more special drafts in recent memory.
Yet caution is advised. As the 2016 class demonstrated in its inaugural NBA year, reality can be remarkably different to the believed predetermined careers of the draftees on draft night. Ben Simmons missed the entire season due to injury, Brandon Ingram, Dragan Bender and Kris Dunn all showed signs of their enormous potential, but ultimately had disappointing rookie seasons and Malcolm Brogdon became the poster boy for year one; despite being a second-round pick, and Joel Embiid and Dario Saric – two of the best three rookies for last season – weren’t even drafted from that class.
So what will be the destiny for the 2017 class? We can’t know, we can only guess, but using last years draft as a yard stick – where the draft had petered out by the end of the lottery – the signs are bright. I am backing the 2017 class to be one for the ages. It may end up being filled with franchise pillars, handy depth players and intriguing prospects all the way through to the end of the second round. The potential draftees have a chance to impact the NBA landscape over the course of the careers, but first they must wait for their name to be called on that magical night in June.