1. Dragan Bender (ESPN: 7, DX: 5)
Dragan Bender is the 2016 poster child of being far more beloved by stats than scouts. He is not an elite athlete nor does he have a go to scorer skill set, so DX and ESPN rate him below the top freshmen and Chad Ford goes as far as to rate him below Malik Pope. But his 261 minute FIBA u18 sample nets him a historically elite 17.4 according to Layne Vashro’s EWP model, which is 4th all time behind Shaq, Anthony Davis, and Nerlens Noel.
His EWP score comes with an large shaker of salt since it is such a small sample, and FIBA has a smaller sample of future pros than NCAA to project from. But his performance is nevertheless intriguing– in 29 mins/game he posted good statistics across the board with an especially impressive 4.9 assists vs. 1.7 turnovers per game, which is amazing for a 16 year old 7’0 prospect. One of his main critiques is that he is too passive, but his stats suggest that he may have a better feel for optimal team play than scouts who criticize him.
Even without elite explosiveness, he has the size and mobility to become an elite defensive player. And even without an elite scoring skill set, his passing ability and tendency to avoid mistakes gives him a high floor and high ceiling offensively. He seems destined to be perpetually under appreciated by casual fans, but I love his potential as a player who makes intelligent, winning plays. One of the top freshmen may vault ahead of him with a strong NCAA performance, but based on current information he is the highest floor highest upside prospect in the draft.
2. Ben Simmons (ESPN: 1, DX: 2)
There are four prospects who can be argued as the top incoming freshman, but I easily favor Simmons. He has the quickness, athleticism, skill level, and (reported) intelligence to thrive as a point guard, except he has a power forward body. His physical tools and passing both look great to my eye. His primary critique is that he is a mediocre outside shooter, but he has hope of becoming a competent 3 point shooter so this is not a backbreaking flaw. Simmons stands out as Hoop Summit player with the biggest upside tail, as well as the one I am most excited to watch this season.
3. Brandon Ingram (ESPN: 4, DX: 4)
Ingram appears to be Kevin Durant lite. His level of dilution compared to the real thing remains to be seen, but he is more than 1 year younger than Simmons and 1.5 years younger than Labissiere. His mold has plenty of upside and I am putting him above Skal because I have an inkling that there is an age bias that causes scouts to underrate the age gap as these players are all being evaluated side by side. And his intersection of reach and shooting mesh for an awesome upside tail, especially given that he appears to have good feel for the game.
4. Skal Labissiere (ESPN: 2, DX: 1)
He is an explosive 7’0″ and based on John Calipari’s recent history with elite big recruits of Karl Towns, Anthony Davis, and DeMarcus Cousins, Labissiere will probably have an awesome freshman year. But at the Hoop Summit he only measured 216 pounds and 7’1.5″ long, and as an older player he has less room for growth in these categories than his peers. And while it is a useful skill, I believe his mid-range shooting tends to get overrated since scouts often use it as a proxy for overall skill level which is simply wrong.
Labissiere nevertheless seems very good, as his mediocre length does not appear to inhibit his shotblocking as he racked up 6 in the Hoop Summit. And based on his tools and short-mid range scoring, he has easily enough positives to ultimately end up #1 on my big board. He just doesn’t glow with upside the way Simmons does. I could go either way with Skal vs. Ingram, and I erred on the side of youth for a slightly contrarian perspective.
5. Jaylen Brown (ESPN: 3, DX: 3)
Brown has the necessary tools, skills, and (reported) intelligence to become the #1 overall player in the class. But he also is the player who has the greatest risk of falling flat as a disappointment. He was unimpressive in the Hoop Summit– this could have just been a bad game, but Brown may not be as good as a tabulation of his strengths would suggest. It is possible that I am being overreactive to one performance, but I rate him as clearly the weakest of the top 4 freshman at this stage.
6. Cheick Diallo (ESPN: 12, DX: 12)
Diallo is a bit undersized for a center and underskilled for a PF, but I am a buyer nevertheless. He has an awesome intersection of motor and coordination, and this enabled him to stuff the stat sheet in all three all-star games. I anticipate an awesome statistical freshman season from him. There will be some minor translation concerns, but his footwork gives him sneaky upside.
7. Jakob Poeltl (ESPN: 10, DX: 10)
The mobile 7’0″ big showed strong potential as an NCAA freshman with elite finishing, offensive rebounding, and defense. His offensive game is limited to work inside the paint, as he shot 44% FT and averaged just 1.2 assists per 40. But his finishing ability yielded a 68% FG on slightly above average usage– his offensive rebounding and pick and roll finishing nicely complement his ability to anchor the defense. There’s clear upside for him to make a positive impact on both sides of the ball.
8. Henry Ellenson (ESPN: 8, DX: 9)
Ellenson is a mobile and athletic big with perimeter skills as he can handle, pass, and make 3s. There are questions about his defense, but based on his physical profile and skill level he easily has the upside to become a star while being a defensive liability. On paper he sounds like a slightly lesser version of Ben Simmons who could easily vault into the #1 conversation, so the main question is whether he has the feel for the game to parlay his skills into production.
9. Jamal Murray (ESPN: 5, DX: 6)
The skilled combo guard skyrocketed his value with a strong Hoop Summit and Pan-American games. He can handle, pass, and shoot, and he looks like he may be this year’s (likely inferior) version of D’Angelo Russell. His primary deficiency is that his average athleticism inhibits his slashing upside in the NBA, and e has mediocre length at 6’7″. It is worth wondering whether a few strong recent performances are causing draft consensus to overlook his pedestrian physical tools, but either way he is one of the more appealing incoming freshmen.
10. Kris Dunn (ESPN: 13, DX: 8)
He has great tools, floor vision, and defensive potential. His stock is slightly hurt by the PG depth in the NBA, but his 6’4″ height and 6’9″ length give him the versatility to defend either guard position. The main concern with Dunn is if he is good enough to be a primary ball handler at the next level, as he does not have best handle and is also turnover prone. He needs the ball to capitalize on his vision, and his limited shooting range calls into question how effective he will be off the ball.
11. Zhou Qi (ESPN: 21, DX: 14)
I do not understand how we live in a world where Kristaps Porzingis is seen as an acceptable selection at #4 overall but Zhou Qi is seen as a mid-late 1st rounder in a weaker draft. He has monster measurements at 7’2″ with a 7’7″ wingspan as well as a good skill level, so he has loads of upside. He warrants some level of skepticism due to being rail thin, but he doesn’t *need* 30 to 40 pounds of muscle to succeed if his strengths outweigh his literal weakness. I haven’t scouted him enough to rank him higher, so I am being conservative by ranking him 11th for now.
12. Furkan Korkmaz (ESPN: 11, DX: 13)
Korkmaz is a skilled, athletic wing who performed well for Turkey in FIBA u19 games. He has a well rounded offensive repertoire as his shooting and cutting makes him a great option off the ball, and his passing ability and athleticism gives him creation upside. His defense is currently a weakness but he at least has the instincts and athleticism to generate a high steal rate. He has a strong complementary skill set with star upside with significant improvements to his defense and ball handling.
13. Nigel Hayes (ESPN: 20, DX: 21)
Hayes measured 6’7.5″ in shoes and 7’2″ long in 2011, which makes him slightly undersized for a PF and earns him the dreaded tweener label. But he likely has the quicks and perimeter skills to play SF, so I prefer to qualify him as a versatile combo forward. With lineups trending smaller, he could be nice value if his height deficiency receives too much attention.
14. Ivan Rabb (ESPN: 25, DX 23 in 2017)
I am a bit confused by Rabb’s standing– after the Hoop Summit his draft stock crashed as there appeared to be consensus that he is not as good as expected. Yet in the recruiting world, he remains the #5 RSCI prospect ahead of consensus lottery picks Cheick Diallo, Malik Newman, Diamond Stone, and Henry Ellenson. Further, Jaylen Brown did not tumble nearly as much in the draft world with an even worse Hoop Summit.
There are concerns about his value as a pro, as he is a dreaded PF in a C body. He currently is 6’10” with 7’2″ wing and weighs 216. But his height/length is only slightly small for a center– given that he still has room for growth, the NBA is trending small, and skinny centers often thrive defensively, Rabb has hope to thrive as an NBA 5.
What he does offer is shot blocking, rebounding, and a smooth finishing ability. He does not have the perimeter skill set of Henry Ellenson, but he does have soft hands, smooth footwork, and good touch near the rim. He has potential to be a suped up Tyler Zeller which would be a nifty asset.
I am not certain that the draft consensus is wrong. But it is so sudden and drastic, I want to see hard evidence that he merits such a fall before following suit.
15. Demetrius Jackson (ESPN: 16, DX: 15)
An athletic, skilled point guard, Jackson finally gets to show off his ability to run the offense with Jerian Grant departed to the NBA. At 6’1″ he is too small to guard NBA SG’s which places a damper on his stock and is a key quality setting him behind taller PG’s such as Kris Dunn. But unlike Dunn, he does not have concerns over ability to play off the ball after a highly efficient sophomore season sharing the backcourt with Grant. The key for his 2016 draft stock is how well he performs running the offense by himself, as big spikes in his assist and usage rates are expected.
16. Caris LeVert (ESPN: 26, DX: 19)
LeVert is not the sexiest prospect, but between his defensive versaility, outside shooting, passing, and small doses of creation he has potential to be a highly useful 3 + D wing.
17. Malik Newman (ESPN: 9, DX: 7)
By all accounts he is a Monta Ellis doppelgänger, and I do not see why NBA teams should be enthusiastic to spend a top 10 pick on a chucker whose arms are too short to defend anything but PG’s. It does sound like he will be a better shooter than Monta, so maybe he finds a way to justify a lottery selection. But his hype is likely a simple example of scoring being overrated and defense being underrated.
18. Diamond Stone (ESPN: 14, DX: 11)
I am shading Stone down from consensus because his main selling point is low post scoring, which is overrated by traditional scouts. On the flipside, it is possible he nevertheless lives up to or exceeds the hype. ESPN’s list of his strengths make his game sound well rounded in the vein of a poor man’s DeMarcus Cousins who is incidentally his NBA role model.
19. Taurean Prince (ESPN: 45, DX: 27)
Baylor tends to recruit top 100 prospects that disappoint, but Prince bucked the trend as a 3 star recruit with a surprise breakout last year. He stuffed the stat sheet in an 868 minute sample, with his PER jumping from 16.2 as a sophomore to 25.6. It will be interesting to see how well he sustains his surprising success as a senior, but he certainly is on the map as a 3 and D prospect. He alleged locked down DeMar DeRozan among other perimeter players at the Nike Skills academy this summer, and he has prototypical SF size. His defensive versatility for a competent 3 point shooter is the highlight of his prospect profile. The only question is how much his lack of elite explosiveness, creation, and passing ability will detract from his NBA performance.
20. Domantas Sabonis (ESPN: 24, DX: 22)
Sabonis displayed excellent interior scoring and rebounding as a freshman, and complements this with great mobility. His main concern is that in spite of being 6’10”, he has questionable PF size with a 6’10.5″ wingspan and limited offensive ability outside the paint. A favorable comparison would be Mitch McGary, except McGary had slightly superior measurables and over double the NCAA steal and block rates. As nice as his freshman stats are, Sabonis’s warts temper his appeal.