By: Sean O'Connor
The unanimous top prospects in this years NBA draft, in no particular order, are Markelle Fultz (PG, University of Washington), Lonzo Ball (PG, UCLA), Josh Jackson (SF, University of Kansas), and Jayson Tatum (SF, Duke University) and when I say unanimous I mean those are the only players all experts agree will be taken in the top five.
Now, as you can see several of the top prospects are point guards, point guards in basketball are like quarterbacks in football, they will touch the ball every possession, and they are often the biggest key to success for any basketball team, which is why two of the top four prospects in this years draft are point guards. Now, while the two I listed are widely considered the best by most “experts”, my favorite, and in my opinion, the most talented point guard in this years draft is De’Aaron Fox (PG, University of Kentucky). He was the fastest player in all of college basketball this year, he can score at will if needed, and he is just flat out exciting to watch. In addition he took his team farther than any of the other point guards listed, which I believe should be taken into consideration. Many compare his game to John Wall, and I find that a fitting comparison given the speed and athleticism of both. I believe that Fox will be taken anywhere from 3-6 in this years draft by Orlando or Philadelphia who are looking for that play maker at point. Whoever ends up with Fox will have a point guard they can build around, and as soon as he puts on a few lbs look for him to start putting fear in defenders eyes as he drives down the court, reminiscent of Russell Westbrook.
The next player I believe could have a bright future is Josh Jackson, now while my criticisms of him are well noted, I still am rooting for him to succeed. Jackson has made a few mistakes in college, and I am the first person to say mistakes should never be swept under the rug because of athletic prowess, however I am also big on second chances. Josh Jackson is so skilled I believe that he could start almost anywhere he went, ALMOST anywhere, but as we all know by now the Boston Celtics own the the Brooklyn Nets top draft pick, which looks like it will be the #1 overall pick, and if Jackson were to be taken first overall by Boston (which would be a great fit) I believe it would provide an amazing learning experience for him. You see the Celtics do not need Josh Jackson to start the first game of next season, like the rest of these lottery teams do, they can leave him on the pine until garbage time, or the last minute of the game, or just sit him there until late in the season when he has proven he is worthy of a role on a playoff team. This could potentially maximize Jackson’s ceiling by allowing him to learn from veteran teammates, and also help with his character. Then down the road in season two or three, I could see Jackson as a potential 17 ppg/7 rpg kind of player, comparable to Kawhi Leonard in his early years.
Luke Kennard (SG, Duke University) and Sindarius Thornwell (SG, University of South Carolina) are two other guys I am really high on. Kennard because of his efficiency and range, and Thornwell because of his pure scoring ability and grit. Both of these players are somewhat overlooked, but I believe they can be the biggest steals of the draft. Most projections have Thornwell going late in the first round or early in the second, but whoever picks him up will be getting a player with not only heart, but talent and an ability to work. This is a player who lead his vastly overlooked Gamecocks to a Final Four appearance, averaging 23.6 ppg in the tournament, leaving no doubt he can perform on the biggest of stages. Some say he has already hit his ceiling though, which is no surprise considering he waited to enter the draft until after his senior year, but have no doubt Sindarius Thornwell will make a significant contribution to whoever drafts him. When it comes to Kinnard, he was easily Dukes top scorer this entire season, and on a stacked roster. From his freshman to sophomore year he saw massive improvement to his all around game, and his draft stock skyrocketed. There is no doubt this can be attributed to a strong work ethic, which is perhaps the single greatest trait when making the transition from college to the NBA. Whoever drafts Luke Kennard will be getting a smart player, with the ability to score from long range, and drive to the paint and get his hands dirty on occasion.
Easily the most intriguing storyline of this years draft though is Lonzo Ball, and where he will land. Before the season he was hyped up as the next Jason Kidd, and for the most part his college statistics backed this up. However, given the recent media attention he has been given due to his father, Lavar Ball, it appears Lonzo will be placed directly in the spotlight wherever he is drafted, and will be expected to perform at a high level almost immediately. Now, before I delve into my opinion on Lonzo, I will admit his father’s antics annoyed me, much like it did the rest of the country. However, when it comes to critiquing Lonzo’s game I put all of that aside, and attempted to be as unbiased as possible. Okay, so here it is, in my eyes Lonzo Ball is a poor man’s Jason Kidd, like an impoverished man ..okay a homeless man. Sorry, I simply don’t see the heart, I mean not two seconds after his team’s Sweet 16 loss to Kentucky he announced he was entering the NBA draft. There is a sort of cold heartedness that seeped through at that moment, and that would scare me as a GM. Yes, there are many one and done players, but few are as hyped up as Mr. Ball, and if you are going to take him as high as a top three pick, you 120% have to love him and every aspect of him, on and off the court. Additionally he does have an extremely unorthodox shot, which without a doubt will be exploited in the NBA, so it definitely will require some work. Given all that, I would say Lonzo is perhaps a wealthy man’s Rajon Rondo, due to his outstanding court vision, ability to involve his teammates, and because I generally do believe Ball is someone who looks to pass before he looks to score, which is a great attribute to have as a point guard. Despite my criticisms I would still say Ball turns out to be a consistent to above average starter in this league, look for him to be a 10 ppg/8 apg player by his third or fourth season, and throughout his career ….but don’t worry Lavar there is no way in hell the Lakers don’t draft your boy, it is a hollywood romance ...west coast basketball phenom playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, you couldn’t ask for better publicity, I don’t know about that billion dollar shoe deal though.
Everyone loves to play psychic before and right after each draft, because when one guy they mentioned ends up being a star in his first year, they look like a genius, so to follow in that trend I will give you my predictions for first team all rookie, rookie of the year, as well as some (more) sleepers (I love an underdog if you can’t tell) for this year’s draft class.
First Team All-Rookie 2017-2018:
PG- De’Aaron Fox
SG- Luke Kennard
SF- Jaron Blossomgame
PF- Bam Adebayo
C- Zach Collins
ROY: De’Aaron Fox
Right away I am probably getting puzzled looks, “who the hell is Jaron Blossomgame ..are you making names up??”, well that is a good transition to my sleeper picks. Jaron Blossomgame is a 6’8 small forward, and three year starter out of Clemson. He suffered a gruesome injury before his freshman year at Clemson, and had to make a tremendous comeback in order to play again. Despite this monstrous obstacle he became Clemson’s best player, and put the team on his back for the better part of the past three seasons. He averaged 17.7 ppg this past season, a drop off from his 18.7 ppg during his junior year, a general trend you’ll see across his statline. While his shooting percentage hovered around 50% the past three seasons, which is tremendous, his three point percentage, however, dropped from 45% to 25% from last year to this year, and that is concerning to say the least. All that aside though, if you watch Blossomgame play you can tell he has enough heart to go around, and is a leader. The main reason I expect him to have a great rookie year though is his potential to play for an established team like San Antonio, Utah, or Houston who have several picks in the late first and early second rounds, right where Blossomgame is projected to be taken. This will allow Blossomgame to potentially play for a top tier coach, giving him a phenomenal chance to develop his game very early on. Worst-case scenario he is drafted by an awful team, and sees plenty of playing time early, because he is definitely NBA ready, unlike a lot of these tweener one and done players who still have their high school bodies. Given the chance I believe Jaron Blossomgame can be a consistent/above average starter, and at worst an outstanding 6th man. Yes, I understand this years draft features a deep small forward field, with guys like Jayson Tatum, Miles Bridges, and Josh Jackson, but Blossomgame is much more filled out, and played four years of college basketball in the ACC, while all of those players mentioned only have one year of college hoops under their belt. This will allow Blossomgame to handle the physicality of the NBA game better, which will assure he sees more playing time.
Considering I gushed over Mr. Blossomgame I will try to condense my next few sleepers into only a few sentences. My final two under the radar players are Harry Giles (PF, Duke University) and Monte Morris (PG, Iowa State University). I see these two as potential high ceiling guys given a few years of development. Harry Giles is well known for being one of the best, if not the best prospect coming out of high school in 2016. However, due to lingering injury problems he did not live up to the hype, at least not in his short stint at Duke. However, I believe he will make a name for himself in the pros. I would make the comparison to Joel Embiid, who suffers from some persistent injury problems as well, but has a tremendous upside. I think if an established team is willing to take a risk on Giles in the mid to late first round, they will have a well polished power forward by year three or four, and a potential all-star later down the road. Point guard Monte Morris is another player who impresses me. He has lead the Big 12 in assists two of the last three seasons, and has lead the Cyclones to the NCAA tournament in each of his four seasons. Most scouts have him going late in the draft, but I expect him to have a great rookie campaign nonetheless, and look for him to be a potential starting point guard in this league somewhere down the road.
Draft day will without a doubt be an exciting one, watching kids dreams come true, and watching franchises continue to build in hopes of future success. Also look out for some draft day trades, as the top teams continue to wheel and deal in hopes of becoming title contenders, right alongside Cleveland and Golden State, while the lowly teams attempt to simply contend for a playoff spent in the coming years. That is the ultimate test now though, attempting to dethrone those two powerhouses who have met in the Finals the past two seasons. After this draft I expect a few teams to be even stronger contenders, with the potential to knock off either or both of those two teams. First and foremost look out for the Boston Celtics who are officially the #1 seed in the East and, as previously mentioned, own the Brooklyn Nets top pick. Look out for the Houston Rockets as well, who have a pair of picks in the second round, and as always look out for the San Antonio Spurs who manage to find a diamond in the rough every few years late in the draft. Now go mark down June 22, 2017 on your calendars NBA fans ..and be on the lookout for my post draft winners and losers, as I tell you who I think will turn a lottery pick this year into a playoff spot next season, and who will continue to take more L’s than Meek Mill.