What a season to not make the NBA playoffs because the talent littered throughout the lottery this year is astounding, especially when comparing it to years past. Years previous I wasn’t able to say with much confidence that even the top 10 would be productive pros, but this year my top 20 or so prospects I can see making an instant impact and be high-quality rotation players for years to come.
So, without further ado, here’s the loaded front half of the 2017 draft class.
- Markelle Fultz, PG/SG, Washington
Fultz has held the top spot on my board all year long, and after the season ended that lead on everyone else has extended to the point of having his own tier. A 6’5” combo guard with a 6’10” wingspan who makes transition plays look rather easy. His potential is to be an elite high-volume scorer who can create his shot in a multitude of ways. Also, Fultz ranks as one of the better pick-and-roll ball handlers in this draft class, which would allow him to finish through contact with a quick step on his roll defender.
Heading into his situation in Boston — no the Celtics should not trade this pick — Fultz primarily though will be off-ball while on the court with Isaiah Thomas. His versatility will allow him to let Thomas still try and create for himself and can meanwhile hit catch-and-shoot shots at a high clip (38-percent). The upside with Fultz is the real deal, and I can see him making a Damian Lillard-type impact immediately, with a much higher ceiling than the Blazers guard.
Fultz not only sets up Boston for win-now mode against LeBron James and the Cavaliers the next couple of seasons, while also finding their Thomas replacement before having to extend him to a max deal.
2. Lonzo Ball, PG, UCLA
Ball fits the billing of the modern NBA point guard in transition. Standing at 6’6”, Ball also has the best vision I’ve seen of a pass-first point since scouting players year-round. The ceiling on Ball is someone who will help you push the pace and stay up on teams, similar to Golden State who runs teams out of the gym and gasses them with constant screen and off-ball movement, that’s how the team would have to be similarly constructed to cater to his strengths. The fit is certainly there for teams like Los Angeles, Philadelphia (would be awfully scary with Simmons as his running-mate), and even Phoenix.
His half-court offense is something to be desired, but with his already elite vision, he should be able to make those high awareness split-second decisions correctly more often than not.
Lonzo will make the entire offense run much more smoothly and encourage more ball movement, which should never be qualified as a negative.
3. Josh Jackson, SF, Kansas
What seems to be the best-case scenario for Suns fans if he drops to No. 4, his elite athleticism and two-way ability make him a tantalizing prospect to mold a roster around. Jackson can be effective both on and off-ball, including leading out in transition.
Jackson’s high motor makes him stand out on the defensive end, and along with his shaky jumper it makes sense for a team with their main offense already on the roster. What you can build around with Jackson is that tenacious defense, which he has the capabilities of guarding 1-4 on the next level. He has quick instincts on passes, forced a lot of tips out of bounds.
If he can mold his body more into the 3, then Jackson has a sky-high upside where he could be able to lock down the opposition's top guard along with tiring out defenders with an aggressive offensive attack.
4. Jonathan Isaac, SF/PF, Florida State (This is where the Phoenix Suns pick)
Fits the positionless game the NBA is going towards and would be a major mismatch on the wing with his length and speed. Out of all of the forwards in this draft class, maybe even more than Tatum, Isaac has the tools to be a true unicorn on both sides of the floor. If he’s able to consistently hit perimeter shots, while also bulking up and create for himself more off the dribble then watch out.
In terms of his defensive potential, though, is where Isaac could become a force. He’s more than able to check wings and guards outside while being able to switch onto bigger, more bully-ball offensive players and hold his own. He should be able to cover 1-5 if he reaches his full development body-wise, and you get ahold of something like that and let the offense take its time. In any other year, Isaac is a No. 1 pick.
As for a fit with the Suns, this is who I see Ryan McDonough pairing alongside Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender come draft night because with that much length to switch on and off multiple positions, it gives you so much more versatility. And if Isaac is able to be a third option on offense behind Booker and Bledsoe, he should be great value at that spot.
5. De’Aaron Fox, PG, Kentucky
Something I have noticed going around the draft community is undervaluing De’Aaron Fox’s offensive potential. His defensive tools are they, but you can’t rule out his game-changing ability on the other end. He has elite speed and his ease at changing speeds on the run is beautiful to watch. Fox will be someone who thrives in transition play, which Kentucky ran over a third of the time he was on the floor.
Fox can create for himself in isolation and pick-and-roll situations. He has one of the quicker first steps in this class, right on par with Fultz. He was fully capable of handling bigs when they were switched on him, as he used quick hesitation dribbles to blow by with speed. That elite trait Fox obtains keeps defenders guessing, which will continue to happen on the next level.
Who knows if I’m in the minority on this, but Fox is my guy to rebuild around Booker if the Suns’ front office pulls the Bledsoe plug on draft night.
6. OG Anunoby, SF/PF, Indiana
Say hello to the biggest sleeper in this stacked year of NBA-caliber players. Prior to injuring his knee, OG Anunoby was considered a high-end lottery pick, but now he’s fallen off into the late lotto range. And to me that make no sense at all.
Why? Well, he’s the only guy in this class I think can guard 1-5 on the next level. If you are a general manager looking for that guy who can comfortably switch onto any defender, you don’t hesitate in selecting that. From the games I watched dating back the last two years on Anunoby, he was able to lockdown Frank Mason and Josh Jackson in November alongside Jamaal Murray in the 2016 tournament. And his offensive game is still not fully developed yet, even though he already has some of the best finishing ability against contact for any wing.
Anunoby gives whoever drafts him someone who you can confidently trot out on the court and tell him to shadow someone like Kawhi Leonard or even a Steph Curry or Devin Booker. His freakish length and incredible defensive instincts make him in my mind a DPOY caliber finisher.
I’m probably the most optimistic person out there on Anunoby, but if he hits that ceiling won’t be getting broken anytime soon.
Also, if the Suns take someone like Fox at No. 4, I’m more than comfortable shipping off draft capital and possibly Bledsoe to obtain Anunoby.
7. Malik Monk, SG, Kentucky
An absolutely elite shooter, a cold-blooded sniper from outside. Malik Monk is a perfect for today’s run-and-gun NBA style. The number one thing that translates to the pros is shooting, and Monk is ready-made to come into a system and contribute in a multitude of ways.
Not only can Monk shoot it out of the gym, but he has the explosiveness to play above the rim. Playing in a system with cuts and picks to set him up will make Monk have even more space than he needed at Kentucky.
Monk’s not ball-dominant, and he’s able to take advantage in the catch-and-shoot department. He has Curry-like range and something that will be taken advantage of as his confidence continues to grow. If you go for 30-plus three times, including a 47-point outing against North Carolina you know that part of his game will translate.
8. Jayson Tatum, SF, Duke
Before I do a quick dive on Tatum, let me just say that if the Suns draft him at No. 4, consider me disappointed. I’ll explain later this month when he likely comes in for a draft workout, but the fit alongside Booker doesn’t make sense to help the Suns star continue his development on that end.
Anyways, Tatum’s best situation would be to come in and be one of the main offensive options right away. He works best in the mid-range while in isolation, very reminiscent of Carmelo in that aspect (but that’s when the comparison stops).
Tatum ranked as one of the best post-up wings in this class by a wide margin. Going to work with his back to the basket and creating off fadeaways or one-on-one moves will be Tatum’s money maker.
The former Blue Devil likely fits best as a small-ball 4 who can continue to take advantage with his mid-range prowess. Also, Tatum can be the be the main handler in PnR situations, but he has to work on his vision as a passer. However, he’s crafty enough to where you can’t count him out when driving inside.
He’s one of those prospects where his offensive potential could really blossom when put into the right franchise.
9. Dennis Smith Jr., PG, North Carolina State
Dennis Smith Jr. is on par with the top guard in this class, Fultz, in terms of explosiveness, and has the potential of being a menace on offense.
NC State’s talent around him was lackluster and many times he had to put the team on his back to get a victory. Lonzo Ball and De’Aaron Fox, however, had secondary options they could fall back on.
Smith Jr. fits the modern mold of a point guard who will be able to run PnR and create for himself in iso situations. If he’s able to fix his jumper, he could be a 3-level scorer who takes over games down the stretch. Also, his drive-and-kick will be able to suck in defenders to free up more space along the perimeter for shooters like Booker, if he’s taken by the Suns.
10. Zach Collins, C/PF, Gonzaga
Compared to bigs like Lauri Markkanen and Jarrett Allen, Zach Collins is the most versatile of all of them in terms of all-around play. As I mentioned in my scouting report on him earlier this week, Collins’ frame still has a way to go in terms of more muscle development. However, with the footwork he already possesses, that could go a long way in terms of his offensive production.
He’s the most traditional 5 in the class and has a great fit waiting for him in Phoenix if taken on draft night. With the passing of Bender already on the roster and them likely heading toward a stretch four development with him, Collins would make sense to add as a paint presence post-Alex Len.
And Collins would be head and shoulders above Len as a replacement, easily.
11. Donovan Mitchell, PG/SG, Louisville
Maybe another surprise to someone who doesn't follow the draft process closely, but Mitchell is someone who really caught my eye the second half of the season.
Well, why do I like him so much to put him ahead of someone like Markkanen on my board? It’s due to his freakish defensive versatility he’s going to offer in the NBA for wherever he lands.
He has an aggressive style on that end, which will make him a hot commodity for trade ups come June 22. I know for certain that Indiana is a team that’s enamored with him in a trade up scenario, so too is New York. He has a 6’11” wingspan and for a 6’3” guard that’s a trait you build around for a prospect.
Also, he’s able to switch on much longer players and take them out of the game. Similar to what Klay Thompson has offered Golden State on the perimeter. With his length, Mitchell should be able to guard most 1s and 2s on the next level and should get better with time.
He is an explosive finisher at the rim and he’s able to take contact with a thick frame. Right now, Mitchell is only 211 pounds and could easily add 10-15 more lbs and not have it hamper his explosion.
Mitchell can score on three levels already and can still continue to work on his improving mid-range and NBA three-pointer. Once he’s able to polish off some shooting mechanics, he could be one of the bigger steals in this draft class.
Keep an eye on Mitchell as a surprisingly early pick.
12. Frank Ntilikina, PG/SG, Strasbourg (France)
With a reported 7-foot wingspan, Frank Ntlikina could be one of the more unique guard prospects in this draft class. I’m going to save most of my analysis on Frank for my scouting report on him, which will be coming out later tonight (link will be added once published). However, for a quick preview, I want to look at one of his main strengths.
His defensive versatility is what really stands out for me. His upside is huge on that end, and his numbers per-40 show that with 3.2 steals and 1.7 blocks in the FIBA U-18’s. He will be able to guard 1’s and 2’s and his length allows him to maneuver through screens and stay on the attacker’s hip.
The ability for him to switch onto bigger size is still undetermined, but he’s one of those projects where it could really pay off in three or so years on both ends while handing the reigns over to him as the lead point.
13. Lauri Markkanen, PF, Arizona
This might cause some outrage with how low I have Markkanen, but it really shows the actual depth at the top of this class. Last year, Markkanen would have easily been in my top six.
The former Wildcat is the best pure shooter in this class alongside Monk, and might be better. As a 7-footer, that’s super rare folks.
However, outside of his advanced shooting mechanics and ability to hit from the outside and mid-range, Markkanen becomes a red flag to me in terms of his defense. I see him having a similar career arc like Ryan Anderson, with much more upside. He lacks athleticism on defense, and at times got bullied by tenacious guards for rebound opportunities.
For a team like Phoenix who needs more of that, I question the fit with Markkanen alongside Bender and Chriss.
Check out my scouting report on Markkanen for more.
14. Jarrett Allen, C, Texas
I had a very hard time picking between Jarrett Allen and Justin Jackson for my final spot in the lottery big board. Jackson has the shooting upside with some 3-and-D potential, but Allen got the slight nudge due to his strong second half and elite intangibles.
Where Allen stood out for me was in transition, surprisingly. He can go 3⁄4 court in only three dribbles. With his grapefruit-sized hands and massive wingspan and standing reach, he has the tools of being an above-average NBA center.
Allen has major potential as a PnR finisher, too, with ample speed to create slight separation off the roll to the basket. And when you add in his defensive upside, you have a prospect who should catch the Suns’ eye, which it seems like it already has with a solo private workout this last week.
That does it for part one, everybody. In part 2 of my big board unveiling, I will preview prospects 15-30 with multiple fits I like for the Suns at No. 32 overall, if they don’t end up being aggressive for their target prior.