After seeing the top 2015 NCAA recruits in their only real game prior to the NCAA season, we finally have a taste for what they have to offer. So it is time for me to publish a way too early 2016 NCAA freshman prospect ranking. Note that this list omits the top recruits that were not in the game such as Diamond Stone and Henry Ellenson, as well as returning upperclassmen and internationals.
#1 Overall Contenders
1. Ben Simmons
Before the game, I was skeptical of Simmons living up to his #1 RSCI hype because of his age and unconventional mold. But after seeing him in action, he won me over as the top prospect in the class. He has uniquely good ball handling and passing skills for a forward and with the size to defend PF’s and quicks to defend SF’s, he offers excellent defensive versatility. This is a trait that projects to become coveted in the near future as defenses that switch relentlessly gain popularity.
He displayed sharp instincts on both ends with his passing vision and anticipation to jump in passing lanes for steals. His only noteworthy warts are his length (6’11) (which is not much to fuss over since he is 6’10” with elite PG skills and quicks) and his lackluster outside shot. Since I am a habitual buyer of prospects who provide everything but shooting, I am happy to roll with Simmons as my early #1 prospect in the class. He reminds me of Lamar Odom with better intangibles.
2. Skal Labissiere
The other consensus contestant for #1 also lived up to the hype, as he displayed great shooting touch from mid-range for an athletic 7 footer and also blocked 6 shots. I rank him below Simmons because he is 4 months older and his underwhelming 7’1.5″ wingspan directly detracts from his strengths of rim protection and shot making. He nevertheless has the necessary height and athleticism to become a good 2 way NBA big man, and is a strong candidate for #1 overall as rim protection and shooting are always a coveted combination of traits.
3. Brandon Ingram
It remains to be seen whether Ingram is actually good at basketball, but he showed enough promise at the Hoop Summit to maintain my interest. Ingram displayed solid feel to avoid mistakes, as he scored 12 points on 5/6 FG’s with 1 assist and 0 TOV’s. He also made some disruptive plays with his length defensively, as he was credited with 1 steal and 1 block and arguably deserved credit for a 2nd steal that went to Isaiah Briscoe.
The tantalizing aspect of Ingram is that he is a rare prospect in the Kevin Durant mold of tall (6.9.5″), lengthy (7’3″), and elite at shooting (42% 3’s 79% FT’s as HS senior). Given that he doesn’t turn 18 until September and is 13.5 months younger than Simmons and 17.5 months younger than Labissiere, he still has time to catch up to Durant’s pre-draft measurements of 6’10.25″ and 7’4.75″. Of course there is more to Durant than being exceptionally lanky and good at shooting, but having go go gadget arms to get off efficient shot attempts at will as well as make plays on D offers unique upside that is missing from other prospects in this class. Ingram appears to have much better feel for the game than Bruno Caboclo, and he can easily prove to be the best prospect in the class after a full NCAA season.
I do not see any clear reason why Ingram is significantly behind Labissiere or Simmons other than him being a late bloomer due to his young age. I believe he has a similar amount of #1 overall equity as the two consensus favorites, and this is more or less a 3 horse race for the top slot.
4. Cheick Diallo
Diallo falls into the dreaded category of 6’9″ player with center skill, but I am nevertheless enamored with him. Between the Hoop Summit and McDonald’s game, Diallo has now posted 30 points, 16 rebounds, 4 blocks, 4 assists, and 1 turnover in 33 minutes. The McDonald’s game is not to be taken seriously as it is more of an all-star showcase than serious basketball, but the man appears to have a knack for stuffing the statsheet. His excellent motor, length (7’4″), and timing enable him to rack up blocks and rebounds, and he has been a putback monster in the two games.
Diallo’s most impressive superpower comes from his beautifully fluid footwork as he is able to race to the rim with impeccable coordination. This reminisces of the smoothness displayed by Joel Embiid, which is a scarce quality in big man prospects. Diallo lacks the height and skill that makes Embiid such a stellar prospect, and this places a damper on his home run upside. But his skill level is not necessarily bad– he appears to be a solid passer for a big man and with his fluidity perhaps he will outperform his projected skill level as a freshman. His oddball mold limits his #1 overall equity, but I envision him dominating NCAA basketball and having myself and statistical models consistently rate him above his perception among scouts.
5. Jaylen Brown
Brown has the physical tools to become a prototypical two way NBA wing, but his disappointing Hoop Summit made it clear that his basketball playing ability and feel are lagging behind his physical gifts. He still has a year to turn things around and prove that he belongs in the #1 conversation, but this could be an early warning sign that he is a bust. He has a wide range of possible rankings at the end his freshman season.
Lotto One and Dones
6. Zhou Qi
Even though he will not be an NCAA freshman, Qi is one of the more fascinating prospects in the game. Qi’s features are that he is 7’2″ with a 7’6.5″ wingspan and is a decent shooter. Reach and shooting are an awesome tool/skill pairing that creates a nice upside, but Qi still needs to improve his 3 point shot to truly capitalize. In the game he did little to stand out in his 12 minutes and somewhat resembled Myles Turner stretched 2 inches upward. But in fairness he did not get much of a chance to show off his offensive skill set, and based on his DX scouting report he has more offensive skill and polish than Turner. I buy that he has plenty of upside, but he will remain a mystery box come draft time with only a Chinese League sample.
7. Stephen Zimmerman
Zimmerman played like a solidly well rounded 7 foot prospect in the Hoop Summit. He has decent length (7’3″), mobility, and athleticism and used his tools to play well defensively. He was disruptive with 2 steals and 2 blocks and also played solid post defense. He also showed a bit of offensive skill as he hit a couple of mid-range jumpers and also beat Labissiere off the dribble and finished over him. Zimmerman does not have any overwhelming strength, but he also lacks glaring weaknesses and his strengths could add up to a strong player.
8. Malik Newman
I entered the Hoop Summit as a Newman bear, as any Monta Ellis shaped chucker is going to pique my short selling interest. But he only played 17 minutes and did little to either win me over or fuel my desire to smash the sell button. He scored 10 points on 4/8 FG and did not display an appalling level of shot selection. Even though he finished with 0 assists, he had an awesome floating pass to Ivan Rabb in transition that Rabb could not finish. Monta Ellis is not a good NBA player, but he has also not been bad playing for Rick Carlisle. If Newman is a more athletic and better shooting version, he can be pretty good. I will wait for a significant sample of NCAA play before I take a position on Newman.
9. Jamal Murray
While Murray is technically a member of the 2016 recruiting class, he is considering reclassifying to 2015 and after his MVP performance in the Hoop Summit I do not see why he would not. He was ranked #16 Rivals and #27 Scout due to largely pedestrian tools as he is 6’5″ with 6’7″ length and average athleticism. But he blew away expectations by flashing shades of D’Angelo Russell en route to his 30 point, 5 assist performance. Much of his production was accrued from jumpshots and transition, so it should come with a grain of salt. But it also cannot be dismissed as sheer variance. Murray showed excellent skill and feel as well as better than advertised athleticism, and his performance could be an early warning sign that he was criminally underrated entering the game.
10. Ivan Rabb
Rabb falls into the same PF/C category as Cheick Diallo, as he is a bit undersized for a center (6’9.75″ w/ 7’2″ wing 215 lbs) and has a questionable skill level for a PF. His powers are that he is smooth and explosive with nice touch around the rim. Unfortunately he only played 8 minutes in the Hoop Summit, and he was one of the players I most looked forward to watching. I remain cautiously optimistic for him for no real reason, his NCAA sample could shift him in either direction.
Late 1sts/Players Who Will Spend > 1 Season in College
11. Chase Jeter
Jeter is type of recruit who keeps Duke locked into the top 10 every year, as he does not have the flash or upside to draw significant interest as an elite pick but has strong potential as a useful role player. He was the youngest player on team USA, edging out Brandon Ingram by 2 weeks. He did not show much burst or skill, but he has good quickness for his size. He used his mobility to stay active on defense and tied for the team USA lead with 5 rebounds. Much like Diallo and Rabb, he is undersized for a center and his NBA stock hinges on the development of his skill level. But Jeter is also a bit less shiny, and Coach K has a knack for coercing late 1st rounders to stick around. It’s possible that he sneaks into the back end of the 2016 lottery, and it’s also possible that he spends 4 quality years at Duke.
12. Allonzo Trier
Trier is the type of recruit who has turned Arizona into a perennial powerhouse. He is a prototypical 2 way NCAA wing who offers athleticism, shooting, defense, and sharp instincts. At the end of the 1st quarter he made an exceptional play where he quickly corralled a long offensive rebound and whipped a pass to Caleb Swanigan for an easy layup a hair before time expired. Most prospects would have chucked a mid-ranger to beat the buzzer, and this is the type of heady play that cannot be learned. Trier negated this with some frustrating plays in transition, as he had a tendency to attack out of control and would barrel into the defensive player and get swatted or lose the ball. These are the type of plays that can be weeded out with further repetitions, but it is disappointing that an athletic wing does not have more shake in the open floor, especially considering his age as the oldest member of team USA. There is enough to like such that he has a strong shot of getting drafted in the round 1, but his age and short arms (6’6″) temper his upside.
13. Jalen Brunson
Brunson was quietly hyperefficient in the Hoop Summit, scoring 12 points on 2/4 FG 8/8 FT with 7 assists and 1 TOV. He is tiny and not exceptionally athletic, but he has some sneaky upside as he has awesome skill and plenty of shake to get to the rim. Also he is creative at getting off rim attempts over the trees in spite of his diminutive size.
14. Thon Maker
How bearish is it right to be on an allegedly skilled 7 footer who in spite of his pathetic offensive showing still corralled 10 rebounds in 14 minutes? I am not sure, but watching Thon Maker try to play basketball resembled a drunk baby trying to walk for the first time ever. He consistently fumbled loose balls, tossed passes that missed his teammate by a mile, left his feet without a clue of what to do with the ball, and attempted shots directly into the hands of the opposing defender. He was clumsy with horrific feel for the game. While the latter may be improved with repetitions against quality competition, the former figures to persist as a thorn in his upside. He looked like he will be lucky to become as good as Byron Mullens and I am really not sure how much his size and alleged skill can overcome his warts. And frankly I am befuddled by the narrative that he is highly skilled since he appears to operate with four hooves instead of two hands and two feet. It still is just one game so I will leave my mind open to it being fluke for some reason but at this point I could not be more bearish on Maker.
15. Isaiah Briscoe
While Briscoe had a good line of 9 points, 9 assists, 3 steals, and 2 turnovers, I cannot help but feel pessimistic for his NBA upside. For starters it is impossible to not compare him to Andrew Harrison as he is the prototypical under explosive bully who will struggle to translate to higher levels of competition. His big advantage over Harrison is superior vision which should help ease his transition to college. But he has no burst and little shake to get to the rim, and he seems like he will be attempting far more mid-range shots and floaters than layups against set defenses. Further he showed poor shot selection as in a crucial possession in the final 2 minutes he attempted an off the dribble mid-ranger following a spin move with 6’10” Ben Simmons blanketed over him, which is pretty much the worst possible shot imaginable. He was bailed out by a foul but then went on to miss both free throws including an airball. Also he is one of the older members of the class as he turned 19 several days after the game. His size and PG skills give Briscoe equity to amount to something, but I do not see anything special to give him enticing upside.
16. Luke Kennard
After a surprisingly fun and likable collection of one and dones made Duke’s 2015 championship run less loathsome to the casual fan, Luke Kennard should restore order to the program’s hatable nature as he has strong potential to be a prototypical Duke villain. His tools are only average for an NCAA wing, which means that he should stick around for a while and with his skill level and knack for scoring he could give JJ Redick’s school scoring record a run for its money. Kennard impressed in the Hoop Summit scoring 22 points on 9/18 FG’s with 0 turnovers, and it is hard to not compare him to Redick with similar physical profiles and styles of play. He could eventually become a first round pick.
23423042. Caleb Swanigan
Swanigan only played 12 minutes in the Hoop Summit but that was enough to convince me to furiously smash the sell button. Not that he was considered much of a prospect anyway, but I am fairly confident that he never will be. He looked clueless on the floor as he stood and watched 6’10” Tai Wynard post up 6’3.5″ Isaiah Briscoe and easily convert a layup from two feet away without even thinking about offering help. Later he continued to make Briscoe’s life difficult as he neglected to call out a screen and watched Briscoe get blasted to the hardwood. Offensively he appears to subscribe to the Julius Randle school of blindly attacking double and triple teams and getting swatted or turning it over. At 6’7.75″ and 271 pounds he appears to be a bully who lacks the feel and IQ to translate his game to elite levels of competition. He does have exceptionally long arms at 7’3.5″ and is a beast on the glass, so perhaps Tom Izzo can find a way to make him a productive NCAA player. But the habitual conclusion jumper inside me says that it’s safe to declare that he’s not going to be a useful NBA player.