It’s been over a month, so it’s time again to take a look at my 2017 NBA Draft Big Board. This time around I’m expanding it to 25 names and including a brief blurb for each. Between now and the draft I expect to write considerably more about individual players, but this is a good way to introduce some of our more casual draft readers to the field.
For anyone who missed the first one, I am ranking these players not just on their own merits, but in terms of how I project them to fit within the organizational philosophy and team culture of the Mavericks. Some consideration is given to roster fit (for example, I doubt Dallas spends a top-10 pick on a center), but for the most part I just tried to identify players who do the sort of things Rick Carlisle likes. Enjoy!
1. Markelle Fultz, PG, Washington
SB Nation’s Ricky O’Donnell called Fultz the Karl-Anthony Towns of point guard prospects. As an analogy, that’s funny if counter intuitive, but I think it’s certainly true in the sense that Fultz—like Towns—has few flaws and has demonstrated the potential to be above average in every facet of the game. That props up his case for being the number one player in this year’s draft. I’m not too discouraged by the poor performance of Fultz’s team, as I think finally playing next to NBA-quality talent will only make him better.
2. Lonzo Ball, PG, UCLA
Ball may have taken a hit in the eyes of those who watch the NCAA tournament and not a whole lot (or any) of the rest of the college season. Still, Ball has a chance to go ahead of Fultz, and if the Mavericks were to get some ping pong luck on May 16th, I’m not so sure they wouldn’t prefer Ball over Fultz themselves. The Mavs value traits like passing and general court awareness, and Ball is special in both categories.
3. Josh Jackson, SF, Kansas
Jackson also has a shot of going number one for a team that doesn’t need a point guard. At 6’8 with that wiry frame and explosive hops, Jackson looks a little like ex-Jayhawk Andrew Wiggins. While he’s maybe not quite in the turbo-nuclear range of athletes like Wiggins, Jackson’s athleticism actually shows up in the stat sheet a lot more, in the form of rebounds, steals, blocks, and a better two-point field goal percentage. Best of all, Jackson is far more advanced at this stage as a play maker and passer than Wiggins.
4. Dennis Smith, PG, NC State
Smith has dropped from this spot in most mocks, but assuming no medical issues surface in the next month, I think he belongs in the top five. A team that can spread the floor will reap the benefits of his drive-and-dish game, and Smith showed enough progress as a shooter that, for the moment, I’m keeping him ahead of new fan favorite De’Aaron Fox, who has a similar profile.
Like Markelle Fultz, Smith didn’t get much help from his teammates in the form of quality production, but he single handedly delivered wins like the come from-behind-stunner over Duke (where he had a career high 32) and a shellacking of Virginia Tech (where Smith had a 27-point triple double).
5. Jonathan Isaac, PF/SF, Florida State
Isaac will need time to develop, but there may not be a player in this draft with a higher upside, given his skill set. Isaac is a 6’10 combo-forward who has a smooth offensive game and the length to rim protect on defense. He was one of only two players in the top 100 to average 2.0 blocks and 1.5 steals per 40 minutes, though he’ll need to add some muscle to reach his potential as a defender. He’s versatile enough that he could be deployed in a variety of different ways on offense, but he’s probably closer to being the prototype next-wave stretch 4 rather than a Durant-esque wing.
6. Frank Ntilikina, PG, Strasbourg
Ntilikina remains a popular mock pick for Dallas at number nine and with good reason. I have him a little higher than others because on paper he looks like such an obvious fit for the Mavs, both in terms of their current projected roster and a general organizational philosophy.
Ntilikina’s best feature is likely his length, as he’s 6’5 with a reported near-7-foot wingspan, but he brings lots more to the table. He has experience running the pick and roll, he’s shot the three ball extremely well in international play, he’s considered heady and a good decision maker, and those long limbs make him a potential All-Defensive candidate, capable of guarding several positions on the floor.
7. De’Aaron Fox, PG, Kentucky
Fox’s 39-point outburst against UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen shot Fox up a lot of mock drafts, but I’m going to try not to overreact to one game and to instead stick with my evaluation based on all the data from the last year-plus. Of course, that still makes Fox one of the most exciting guys in the draft, and certainly a potential franchise point guard. Fox is a blur with the ball, and his size makes him an asset at both ends of the court. He’s a very impressive individual in interviews, as well.
Ultimately, I have him slightly behind Smith and Ntilikina because he made less than a quarter of his college threes and his shot mechanics look really funky to me. That isn’t news, but it’s important, because NBA defenders will give him room if it means they can take away the speed drives.
8. Jayson Tatum, SF, Duke
This is probably represents the farthest Tatum will drop on actual draft night. I don’t think there’s any way he gets by the Kings’ first pick, and he could go several spots higher. As far as Dallas goes, I think there are two ways of looking at him. On the one hand, Tatum’s ball-handling and play-making potential could be a good fit next to Harrison Barnes, who was almost exclusively a play finisher rather than a passer last season. On the other hand, if you watch Duke film, Tatum was used eerily similarly to Barnes: a ton of midrange iso, some post ups, and a lot of catch and hold that ended with a step-back jumper.
9. Malik Monk, SG/PG, Kentucky
Monk ended his college career with a performance against North Carolina that encapsulated both the good and bad of his prospect profile. For most of the afternoon he struggled, exposing his underdeveloped secondary skills and lack of size necessary to take over games on nights when his jump shot isn’t falling. Then, in the final 40 seconds, he buried a pair of absolutely ridiculous shots that nearly stole the game from the Tar Heels, demonstrating the sort of confidence and heart only the NBA’s best possess. As an idea, Malik Monk is extremely fun, but I’m not sure exactly what type of player you’ll get by taking him.
10. Lauri Markkanen, PF, Arizona
Similar to Monk, Markkanen has an elite skill, but may end up being a bit one-dimensional at the next level. Still, what a dimension! Markkanen was simply too much for any college defender to handle, with his combination of size and shooting touch. There will be an adjustment period for him in the NBA, but on the right team I think Lauri can make an impact. He’s a legit 7-feet and a deceptively fluid athlete, which puts him ahead of most of the other tall white stiffs who invariably are tapped with the “next Dirk” label if they can shoot a little.
11. Zach Collins, C/PF, Gonzaga
With Miles Bridges and Robert Williams withdrawing from the draft to stay in school, Collins gets a boost to just outside the top 10. For a bit player on a mid-conference team, that might seem unreasonable, but Collins was that good in his limited action. He rebounded and blocked shots on a per-minute basis as well as anyone in college basketball and showed off an impressive inside-out game with some nice post moves, a good-looking face-up jumper, and the athleticism to beat his man downcourt and finish lob dunks with authority.
12. Justin Jackson, SF, North Carolina
I struggled with where Jackson should rank on this board, and that’s probably an indication of how steep the drop off in quality is at this point. But Jackson could be a solid pro, especially if his improvement from outside sticks. Six-foot-eight wings who can handle, pass, and shoot never go out of style, and something should be said for the fact that Jackson was one of the leaders on a team that was a Kris Jenkins buzzer-beater from winning back-to-back national championships.
13. OG Anunoby, SF, Indiana
Continuing the theme of “where the hell does this guy go?”, Anunoby is another head-scratcher, as the Hoosier sophomore looked on his way to cementing his status as a lottery pick before a major injury ended his season early. Further updates on that front could alter this placement, but even taking the medical question out, Anunoby is a hard guy to place. At 6’8 and a chiseled 235 pounds, he’s a monster athlete who put himself on the prospect map by completely shutting down last year’s top-10 pick Jamal Murray in the 2016 NCAA tournament. He was starting to show promise as an offensive player prior to the injury, though he’s still extremely raw.
14. Jarrett Allen, C, Texas
Allen looked a bit overwhelmed when he first arrived in Austin, but the big man slowly started to put it together as the college season went on, and he often rose to meet the standard of his opponent, as arguably his two best games came against Big 12 powerhouse Kansas. Allen is extremely long and (when motivated) looks the part of the classic shot-blocking, above-the-rim-finishing big man.
A motivated Allen didn’t always show up to play, unfortunately. He had better footwork and shooting mechanics than I expected given how raw I’d heard he was. He’ll be a project for a team other than Dallas, I suspect.
15. Justin Patton, C, Creighton
Patton was the surprise freshman to surface on draft radars prior to Zach Collins, as he was converting shots at a super efficient, over 70-percent rate still in mid-January. He cooled off a little down the stretch and looked a bit exposed against more athletic competition in the Big East tournament and then in an opening round NCAA tourney loss to underdog Rhode Island. But Patton still has a lot of upside, with the potential to be a real two-way threat. He made eight of 15 three-point attempts this season, though he did struggle at the free-throw line.
16. Terrance Ferguson, SG, Adelaide
Ferguson followed in the steps of Brandon Jennings and Emmanuel Mudiay, forgoing college ball for overseas professional experience. Much like both of those prospects, Ferguson hasn’t done much with his pro team, but the McDonalds All-American retains a promising skill set with size, athleticism, and shooting range. To be blunt, outside the lottery, there just aren’t many wings who check all three of those boxes, and that might be what ends up pushing him into the top 20 on draft night.
17. Rodions Kurucs, SF, Barcelona
Kurucs might end up as a draft-and-stash guy, but I’m intrigued by his potential. Imagine Nicolas Brussino, but four years younger and more athletic. There isn’t a ton of tape on him, but the little I’ve found definitely jumps out, as 6’9 guys who can shoot, handle, and finish usually do. If he falls and someone in the late first or early second is selling a pick, Kurucs would be a very interesting low-risk, high-reward buy for Dallas.
18. Isaiah, Hartenstein, PF, Zalgiris
Hartenstein was the big standout from the Nike Hoop Summit earlier this month. This is the area of the draft that turns into essentially a lotto ticket, so why not go for the mega-upside? Hartenstein is athletic for a 7-footer, shows promise as a shooter and ball handler, and is an intense player, perhaps sometimes even to his detriment. He may be a year or more away, like Kurucs, but this is the sort of player Dallas is usually in on early.
19. T.J. Leaf, PF, UCLA
Leaf is a bit of a polarizing prospect, and to be sure, he has warts. That being said, if not for Lonzo Ball, Leaf would have been the freshman who returned UCLA to their Bruin glory as a fun, high-scoring attacker. Leaf scored just about every way one can: in transition, posting up, spotting up, pick and roll, etc. He also had an assist rate better than most of the off-guards and wings who will get drafted come June, and he rarely turned it over. He may never be strong enough to be a starter-caliber defender, but the rest of what he brings can benefit a team.
20. John Collins, PF, Wake Forest
Collins had one of the quietest dominant seasons in recent college memory. Of Draft Express’ top 100 prospects, Collins was first in scoring (28 points per 40 minutes), ninth in shot blocking (2.3 per 40), and third in rebounding (14.3 rebounds per 40), including second in offensive rebounding to literal giant Tacko Fall. Collins also made over 60 percent of his shots, so it’s not like he was padding his stats Moses Malone style. Offensive rebounding is a skill that usually translates really well to the NBA, and that should be his calling card: crash the glass and rack up garbage points inside.
21. Luke Kennard, SG, Duke
I’ll admit this, and I’m not proud of it, but like many others, I have a bit of a bias against the unathletic Duke white guy. It started with Laettner, reached its apex with Redick, and even as I’ve grown older, it probably hasn’t entirely gone away. Still, I try to look at players as objectively as possible.
On a team filled with talented players people were talking about instead of him, Luke Kennard was the breakout star and leader for Duke. He’s a crafty lefty with a nice stroke and just barely enough size to compensate for average athleticism and make it at a position that has become dramatically reduced in importance over the last decade: shooting guard.
22. Donovan Mitchell, SG, Louisville
At one point it looked like Mitchell might take off and sneak into the late lottery, but as he cooled off with his shooting, that ship may have sailed. Mitchell does bring some unique skills to the table: he’s very athletic, and finished second in DX’s Top 100 in steal rate. If he were three inches taller he’d probably be a top-10 selection. Instead, he is the dreaded tweener guard, with solid but less-than-ideal play-making skills preventing him from playing the point full time.
23. Ivan Rabb, PF, Cal
Rabb is the counter argument to the goobers of the world who bemoan kids leaving school early. A possible top-15 pick had he kept his name in the draft as a freshman, Rabb returned for another year, averaged a double-double for Cal, and is probably going to go five to 10 picks later for his effort. Rabb couldn’t maintain the superb efficiency of his first season, and he’s a bit of a dinosaur when placed in the context of the new NBA, which values floor spacing and defensive versatility. Still, he’s tall, polished, and not a total stiff, so he could end up having a long career as a third big.
24. Harry Giles, PF, Duke
I’m hesitant to even place him here, because based on production Giles should not be drafted. However, it can’t be ignored that 18 months ago, Giles was widely considered the top amateur basketball player in the country. An ACL injury (his second) ended his high school career and he was still rounding himself into form even as his freshman year at Duke concluded, but if he does make a complete recovery, he’s very likely the steal of the draft. Super long and tantalizingly athletic, Giles was an extremely aggressive player in high school, and I wish I saw that on tape at Duke. This pick is mostly me putting faith in scouts who know better than I do.
25. Caleb Swanigan, PF, Purdue
Swanigan was one of a handful of big men I considered to round out the top 25. After Mav draft pick A.J. Hammons left Purdue, Swanigan filled his shoes as the go-to guy for the Boilermakers. Swanigan made enormous strides in his sophomore year, both in his diet (shedding close to 30 pounds) and as a player, averaging 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per game. There simply isn’t a major conference performer who can match that, and when you consider that Swanigan made nearly 45 percent of his threes, you might be wondering why he isn’t higher.
Well, Swanigan is a little on the short side for a power forward at just under 6’9. He’s also a decent but unspectacular athlete. His 7’3 wingspan counteracts that somewhat, but his extremely poor steal and block rates suggest he’ll never be a quality defender. He’ll also need to keep those pounds off.
Not me, though, I’m about to go eat something. I’m starving!