The word on the street is that the incoming NCAA freshman class is weaker than the last few, so I decided to take a closer look. I accumulated the stats of a dozen High School All-Americans who played in the McDonald’s game, Nike Hoop Summit, and Jordan Brand Classic, as well as a few notable prospects who appeared in two of the three.
1. Ben Simmons-PF-LSU
Ben Simmons (pictured) played up to his #1 RSCI ranking on the all-star circuit, putting up 20/16/10 and 3.5 steals Per 40 minutes while looking like a man amongst boys. His stats come with some concerns as well. The Aussie transplant registered 0 blocks (though I think the stat-keeper erroneously registered a block as a steal), which when taken in combination with his non-shooting could put Simmons in dreaded tweener territory. A league-wide trend that could benefit Simmons is the emerging role of the “playmaking 4”, one that he fits to a tee.
The 6’9” point forward mold has produced some of the most valuable players in recent NBA history such as Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Grant Hill, Tracy McGrady, and LeBron James. The purpose of the NBA draft is to acquire players of this caliber, and even if Simmons has a 5% chance of being that good he’s probably the top prospect in this class.
2. Skal Labissiere-PF/C-Kentucky
For the fourth time in five years, John Calipari brings a primo 6’11” center to Lexington. If Labissiere’s scoring, rebounding, and shot-blocking translate to NCAA, and I don’t see why they wouldn’t, he will be in the mix for the #1 pick as a high floor/high ceiling two-way center prospect. His low assist and steals numbers are worrisome, though, as these can be good indicators of skill level and basketball IQ in young big men.
Skal may turn out to be 2016’s Myles Turner, although it should be noted that Turner did not look good on this stage a year ago, so Skal has the early edge.
3. Cheick Diallo-F/C-Kansas
If I truly bought into the predictive power of the tiny sample size provided by high school all-star games, I would declare Kansas-commit Cheick Diallo as the best player in this class and the future greatest basketball player of all-time. Diallo was relentless in stuffing the stat sheet on both ends, adding in 70% shooting and a tidy assist-to-turnover ratio just for good measure. The Mali native was repeatedly praised by analysts for his motor, and some of his statistical dominance can be attributed to his trying harder than everyone else in an all-star game setting. Diallo is more than just an active body, though. He has great footwork, finishing ability, and the athleticism to run the floor and disrupt shots in the paint.
If he were as big as Labissiere, Cheick would be a can’t-miss prospect, but as a 6’9” center it’s possible that he peaks as a statistical darling at the NCAA level.
4. Brandon Ingram-F-Duke
My favorite player to watch in these games was probably Duke-bound forward Brandon Ingram. Ingram is an intriguing paradox who is very underdeveloped physically but already displays sound fundamentals and a sweet jumper.
This is certainly something that Coach K values in recruits, and I bet he loved that Ingram was hyper-efficient and turnover averse while his peers were mostly playing streetball. Ingram also flashed his ability to be a versatile defensive force with a pterodactyl wingspan.
If his body catches up to his talent level, there is no ceiling to Ingram’s 3&D potential and for this reason he should be discussed as a possible #1 pick.
5. Jaylen Brown-F-California
Jaylen Brown is a 6’7” tank of a small forward that is similar to Stanley Johnson coming out of high school last year. He will follow Johnson’s footsteps and play in the Pac-12 next season at Cal. Johnson’s freshman year Per 40 numbers actually mirror the ones Brown compiled on the HS all-star circuit: 19 PTS, 9 REB, and 2.3 AST. My hunch is that Brown is a bit worse on both ends than Stanley Johnson, but he still could be a lottery pick if he proves to have an adequate jumper.
6. Stephen Zimmerman-C-UNLV
Zimmerman is a prospect that strikes me as underrated. The 10th ranked recruit on ESPN, Big Zim stands a legit 7 feet and is a good athlete who participated in the McDonald’s dunk contest. This doesn’t show in his rebounding rate – and maybe he is soft on the glass – but his defensive stats are off the charts. He can also stretch the floor with his ability to shoot and pass. Zimmerman’s assist numbers would look even better if not for sloppy teammates:
It may be hard to sell NBA fans on a big lanky white guy these days, but skilled 7-footers don’t usually make it out of the first round.
7. Ivan Rabb-PF/C-California
Ivan Rabb will join Jaylen Brown on a loaded Cal team under coach Cuonzo Martin. Rabb posted numbers consistent with a young center prospect except for his block rate, which I suspect is just bad variance in limited playing time. Rabb is tall and raw and has a degree of top 10 upside, so I ranked him above some impressive guards.
8. Allonzo Trier-SG-Arizona
This was the latest I could fade Zo Trier, who tallied 37 PTS Per 40 minutes and was one of the only guys in this sample that actually made threes. The rest of Trier’s stat line is very bland and he is almost 20 years old, so I don’t think he’s one of the top five prospects in this class.
9. Isaiah Briscoe-PG-Kentucky
Briscoe’s statistical profile is boom or bust. Isaiah racked up points, rebounds, and assists, but struggled with turnovers and shooting efficiency. Isaiah’s decision-making and sub-40% mark on 2-pointers invokes Andrew Harrison, in case any Wildcat fans were worried about that transition going smoothly.
10. Malik Newman-PG-Mississippi State
For a player known as a scorer, Newman did so terribly playing against his peers. He also didn’t rebound and turned the ball over at an alarming rate. Newman is redeemed somewhat by his assist and steal numbers, potential three point range, and physical tools, but he is overrated and probably will not be looked at as a top five pick for long.
11. Jalen Brunson-PG-Villanova
The son of former McDonald’s All-American and Philly street legend Rick Brunson, Jalen could carry the torch from Tyus Jones and Tyler Ennis as this year’s celebrated “pure” point guard with bad tools.
12. Caleb Swanigan-C-Purdue
Swanigan is strong as an ox but is neither sharp nor skilled; basically the inverse of Brandon Ingram. This is a classic makeup of an NCAA bust (see: the fall of Cliff Alexander’s draft stock), and Swanigan’s awful showing against top high school competition doesn’t bode well. He is this group’s most likely to post a single-digit PER as a freshman.