As we ascend into March Madness I figure it’s about time I drop my first rankings of the season. This year’s lottery is looking especially weak outside of the top two, which is probably why I’ve put off writing about it. For more info on DMX, check out my previous article on international prospects and the complete model here.
1. Ben Simmons
2. Brandon Ingram
Most of my thoughts on the top two prospects are laid out here. If anything, I am leaning more towards Simmons than I was at that time, as Ingram has endured a difficult stretch since then including a ten-turnover catastrophe against Louisville’s pressure defense. It hasn’t been smooth sailing for Simmons either. He was benched briefly for “academic issues” and concluded his NCAA career with a 33-point drubbing in the SEC tournament. The more I watch Simmons, he looks like the type of athlete you don’t pass up in the draft. LeBron James is just about the only precedent for someone his combination of size, speed, skill and coordination. Credit to Ingram for making things very interesting, but Ben is still the prize of this draft.
3. Dragan Bender
Maccabi Tel Aviv
4. Jakob Poeltl
The Big Ö has followed up on a promising freshman season by improving every facet of his game and becoming the most dominant center in college basketball. As I wrote in my annotated lottery from last season, Jakob is no flash and all substance. He doesn’t catch lobs, shoot threes, or pirouette in the paint like Jahlil Okafor. He does ace the boring, requisite center stuff like finishing pick-and-rolls, rebounding, and protecting the rim. Outside of the top two, Poeltl is the safest commodity in this draft class.
5. Kris Dunn
Dunn made a smart move returning to Providence for his senior season and thus entering a draft pool with no stud point guards. By virtue of being the best PG in the class, Dunn is a likely top-five pick even though he carries the same downside risk he did a year ago when I ranked him 14th overall. Kris reminds me of a poor man’s John Wall; a big, explosive point guard who is a great man defender and a creative, value-adding passer, with a propensity for turnovers and clanking jump shots. I have a soft spot this prototype, though Dunn is probably closer to the caliber of Elfrid Payton than Wall or pre-injury Derrick Rose.
6. Ivan Rabb
I’ve probably watched more of Cal than any other team in the country this year because they are the only team with two top ten prospects and there isn’t much else to watch basketball-wise at 11:40 ET unless the Warriors are on. By far my favorite player on the Bears is freshman Ivan Rabb, an efficiency stud whose game is way more advanced than you would expect from someone who looks like the tallest kid in middle school. Rabb already knows how to score and pass out of the post and is a legitimate pick-and-roll savant with mobility, suction cup hands, and expert rim-finishing skills. I don’t have the Synergy numbers, but I bet they’re scary. The only reason I can’t get really excited about Rabb is that he is a small-ball five who doesn’t shoot threes or block many shots.
7. Henry Ellenson
In between Cal’s blue chips is Henry Ellenson, a 6’10” freshman with a versatile offensive skill set. Ellenson is in the mold of a “Stan Van Gundy forward” like Marcus Morris, Tobias Harris, Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, and so on. He is a big body who can shoot threes, rebound, put the ball on the floor, and pass. If the idea of selecting the next Ersan Ilyasova in the top ten doesn’t excite you, welcome to the 2016 NBA draft.
8. Jaylen Brown
Brown is a 6’7” Adonis of a SF who carries a poor TS% and TOV% that is reflective of his sloppy and inefficient play. The most worrisome thing about Jaylen is not necessarily that he is a poor shooter, but that he doesn’t seem to realize it. He has upside as DeMarr DeRozan 2.0, however it took half a decade for DD to channel his athletic gifts into an efficient offensive game and it will be an uphill battle for Brown to do the likewise.
9. Furkan Korkmaz
10. Jamal Murray
Jamal Murray was easy to dismiss as a prospect when his scoring wasn’t holding up early at Kentucky because the Canadian transplant is not a PG as he was purported to be before college, nor does he look like he’ll ever be close to a plus on the defensive end. Now that he is red hot and looking like an Eric Gordon clone, it’s time to give Murray his due. Although still a bit one-dimensional for my liking (I don’t care for Eric Gordon, either), this kid can definitely get buckets and is firmly in the top ten mix.
11. Denzel Valentine
Michigan State’s senior leader is the best player in the NCAA; a walking triple-double and the backbone of the #3 KenPom team. Denzel could provide a lot of versatility as an NBA point guard that could switch onto 2s and 3s on defense. Similar to the role that Evan Turner plays for Boston, but with the possibility of being a 3PT shooter.
12. Wade Baldwin IV
Wade Baldwin is a “master of none” type who basically checks every box for a PG prospect. Baldwin is big (6’3” with 6’10” wingspan), plays strong defense, passes well, makes 40% of his threes, and is the same age as some of the freshmen. My only knock on Baldwin is that you could watch a Vandy game and forget he’s out there, only for him to wind up with 15/5/6. I suspect his true value lies somewhere in between the scouting consensus and his statistical resume.
13. Deyonta Davis
Michigan State teammates Davis and Valentine couldn’t be more different as prospects, and I am looking forward to seeing who gets drafted first (assuming Deyonta declares). Davis’ stock is built on athleticism, upside, and efficiency, Valentine’s on skill, polish, and intangibles. Deyonta reminds me of Stromile Swift, a lottery flop who was perhaps just ahead of his time. He could be a tweener or it could be that guys like Davis and Rabb are the future of the C position.
14. Timothe Luwawu