The NBA ping-pong ball Lottery is less than a month away, and perhaps more than any other year in recent memory, the bouncing of the balls will have a clear impact on the order of the selections. This draft, much like the John Wall draft, is largely guard focused – and perhaps even more so as there is no Boogie Cousins-like big available.
Of the likely first ten picks, only two project out as power forwards, Johnathan Issacs and Lauri Markkanen, and Issacs is likely a 3/4 hybrid, and Markkanen is more Dirk than Paul Gasol as far as seven-foot foreign imports are concerned.
With so much flexibility in position in the modern NBA, it is easy to just assume teams will go “best player available” but don’t think that fit doesn’t matter. If you already have a pure distributing point guard, Markelle Fultz over Lonzo Ball is easy. If you need someone to orchestrate a stable of existing talent (i.e. Phoenix) I can’t see HOW you pass on Jason Kidd 2.0.
Need a scorer? How about the silky Josh Jackson? Fultz and Ball are more traditional lead guards, but if you need a guy who can drop in and get you fifteen a night NEXT YEAR, Jackson is the most likely fit. He reminds me a bit of another recent Kansas prodigy, Andrew Wiggins.
Want to play at a blazing tempo? Might I interest you in a pair of Kentucky guards who play at a pace few have matched the last five years in college hoops? Now, who to select, Fox or Monk?? Therein lies a challenging decision…
This draft is going to be fascinating because of how many top picks play similar positions, but play them so differently. Obviously, the order of the selections will impact WHO goes WHERE, but here are my TOP FIVE LOTTERY PICKS, team-fit independent.
#1. Lonzo Ball (UCLA Bruins)
I get it. You don’t like his Dad. He’s an annoying loud-mouth, spouting off incessantly and polluting the ESPN Airways. His Dad was recently called “the worst thing to happen to sports in 100 years.” I would counter, OJ. Worse. OJ is definitely at least a teeny bit worse…
Alas, Pops aside, this kid is special. Magical. Even better, “Magic-like” as in another Los Angeles icon, Magic Johnson. I’ve been yammering about Lonzo Ball since the second week of November when UCLA was barely ranked and no one had ever even heard of dopey LaVar Ball. The first word that came to mind was “J-Kidd 2.0” and after watching him play another 15 times, I’m not backing off that assessment. Ball has a court-vision and awareness I haven’t seen in college basketball in more than a decade. I’ve gotten plenty of Tweets directed my way with a contrary opinion; (and feel free to add yours to the list @TheMarchManiacs): His jumper is busted, he is overrated, his Dad will be a distraction – all of which are utter nonsense.
His jump shot FORM is busted, but the results are actually pretty good. He shot 43.2% from distance for UCLA and a staggering 73.2% on all two-point attempts, indicating both an intelligent shot selection and an uncanny ability to finish near the rim. Will his shot mechanics need to improve at the next level? Sure. He’ll need to get the ball up off his hip a little to consistently have room to pull the trigger, but he is only 19 years old. Jason Kidd was mockingly called “Ason Kidd” for the first half of his NBA career because “he had no J” and all he did was go to the NBA Finals three times winning once, win two Olympic Gold Medals, make 10 All Star teams and become an NBA Hall of Famer.
It’s always a risk saying any 19-year old college kid is going to be a Hall of Famer (I’ll let his Dad do that for me), but I think he is the no-doubt, transcendent talent in the 2017 Draft. His game is just DIFFERENT. It looks different, it feels different, but it is simply spectacular. In the new position-less NBA, having a 6’6’’ hybrid point guard with once-in-a-generation court vision is invaluable. I have seen some people speculate the Suns take Josh Jackson with the second pick should they land it – nonsense. Put Lonzo Ball at the point of that young, shooting-dynamic, electric offense? Playoffs within 24 months.
It is unlikely Ball actually goes #1 in the Draft, but I’ll take him as my can’t-miss #1 player on the Big Board.
#2. Markelle Fultz (Washington Huskies)
Fultz is the consensus #1 pick in this year’s draft, and it is easy to see why scouts and pro teams are so in love with him. The 6’5’’ point guard checks all the requisite boxes for NBA success. He is athletic and strong, he has a pro-ready physique and he can shoot AND score (those aren’t always the exact same skill set – Fultz can do both). He can knock-down spot up shots as well as create off the bounce and get shots for teammates. He averaged 23.2 points and nearly six assists despite facing crazy defensive scrutiny as a Russell Westbrook-like one-man band in Washington.
But there is the troubling fact that his team wasn’t good. I mean, REALLY not good. The Huskies weren’t even competitive in a lot of games, which to ME anyways, is more than a little concerning. How is he going to immediately lead an NBA team to wins if he couldn’t win five games in the Pac-12??
There are a few small question marks and I’d personally take Ball ahead of him if I needed a true point guard. Perhaps I shall be proven wrong, but I can’t think of too many NBA All Stars whose teams floundered in college. Maybe Paul George at Fresno State? Typically, elite NBA players elevate their college programs; Gordon Hayward at Butler, Dwyane Wade at Marquette, Melo at Syracuse, James Harden had Arizona State as a #3 seed in a similar Pac-12 dynamic; little teammate support in an excellent league. Losing as MUCH as Fultz did at U-Dub is a major concern.
Alas, talent and potential rule the modern Draft Board, so Fultz is going to go #1. And I will wait three or four years for my “told you so.”
#3. Josh Jackson (Kansas University)
The 6’8’’, 205 pound freshman is the best finisher and wing athlete in the draft. There are some off-court issues that shouldn’t impact his draft status or portend any legal troubles, but they are enough to at least raise an eyebrow and introduce a slight concern. It makes the discussion between he and Jayson Tatum at least worth having in a draft war room. Tatum is a little safer, but far less athletic and a much more stationary player.
Josh Jackson clearly has elite wing athleticism. He glides to the hoop more effortlessly and poetically than anyone else on the board. But he is light at just over 200 pounds and his shot is good but not elite. His counting stats aren’t as high as some other prospects, but he also played on a more balanced and compete team than some others, so points especially draw down a little bit.
Athletically, Jackson checks all the boxes. But so have a lot of other similar-profiled Kansas wings over the last few years. Andrew Wiggins is the real deal. Kelly Oubre, Ben McLemore and Xavier Henry – less so. Which one Jackson will become is still a fair question/concern.
#4. Jayson Tatum (Duke University)
Tatum has the most mature NBA-style offensive game and has shown great flashes of two-way potential to entice scouts. Most incoming one-and-doner’s struggle mightily on the defensive end of the floor, but Tatum has the physical tools and motor to be able to stay on the floor defensively. He also has the best combo game in terms of offensive skills. The 6’8’’, 210-pound swing man is good in isolation, has good shot-creating midrange game and is explosive to the tin. He can post well and backdown defenders and has a lot of Carmelo Anthony in his game in terms of offensive one-on-one skills without some of the ‘ball stickiness.”
Tatum doesn’t have the quickness of Fultz, the explosive agility of Jackson or the vision of Ball, so he slots solidly outside of the Top Three in this draft class. But his overall skill set and refined offensive abilities make him a very SAFE pick. It is hard to see Tatum flaming out in the League and being anything less than a solid seven to ten-year rotation player.
He will need to improve his spot-up shooting ability, but his decent midrange post game will offset that early limitation and make him a viable option to get minutes next season. He is projected from #4 to #6 which means he could find a nice home in Philadelphia, Orlando or even Minnesota.
#5. Lauri Markkanen (Arizona University)
Markkanen is a little bit of a wildcard in terms of just what his ceiling can be in the NBA. He isn’t an elite athlete and he is just a decent passer – a skill which he will need to improve as a pick-and-pop or high screen and roll type hybrid big man. But he IS a seven-footer who can shoot, handle the ball decently, and can score baskets. In the new NBA, a seven-footer who can shoot and score will always have a home.
Is Markannen a ten-time All-Star? Probably not, though a few Dirk Nowitzki comparisons have been bandied about. But is he a potential bust? That’s really difficult to envision. Again, seven-footer who can really SHOOT. Those aren’t going out of style anytime soon. And just because he is an excellent shooter for his size and one of the best catch-and-shoot bigs to come out of the draft in a few years doesn’t mean he is soft. In fact, Markkanen is far from it. The seven-footer from Finland used his great size effectively as an excellent finisher at the rim and an adequate rim protector.
But at the end of the analysis, it is impossible to ignore the fact that he shot better than 50% from three-point range, the ONLY high major player with more than 90 attempts to do so last season.
Markannen is projected anywhere between 6th and 9th, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he is snapped up at #6 by Minnesota (presumably Minnesota, the Lottery is still a few weeks away). Guys like this don’t come along every year and for a team that likes to play a wide-open style or is attempting to get to more of a “spread the floor with shooters” style. With his deadly accuracy from distance and his NBA-ready shot mechanics (high release point, quick trigger) he will be a nice addition in 2017-2018.
The NBA Draft Lottery will take place on May 16th, the 2017 NBA Draft on June 22nd
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