Somewhat unfairly, the rookies, second year and third year players begin to be labeled only games or weeks into their NBA careers. Most of the talent coming out in the top of the NBA draft consists of 19 year old kids or international players, both of whom require time to learn the NBA game. That being said, we are going to do it anyway and project the career futures of the top five drafts in the last three NBA drafts.
In these classes, we have some players were borderline NBA All Stars just years into their NBA careers. Many are carving out go to roles with their respective teams and have given ridiculed franchises a glimmer of hope that teams picking in the top five hope they can land. The lottery and furthermore the top five picks are viewed as the can’t miss zone. Teams can’t bank on landing a Kobe Bryant at 13th overall, but they should expect to add a franchise piece at number 2 overall. If teams are picking in the top five, the plan is to get a player that is going to reassure you won’t be picking there again in the near future. Sadly, some teams on this list have been picking there all three years we are covering with the hope that one day that can end.
It does look like we are sporting some misses on our board here. Whether it is too early to tell or just that that player is going to fill a lesser void that first expected, the teams selecting are starting to learn what they have and what further more they will need. Like their NBA front offices, we will try to conclude where these players will stand in the future of their NBA careers.
15. 2014 #1 – Andrew Wiggins
Projection: NBA All Star, All NBA
Wiggins was drafted number one overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers and traded before his rookie year to the Minnesota Timberwolves. There he has teamed with future NBA All Star Karl-Anthony Towns to form one of the league’s best young duos. Wiggins has earned Rookie of the Year honors and an All Rookie First Team early in his career and seems poised to add other accolades in the near future. His PPG has improved from 16.9 his rookie year to 20.7 in year to and is currently sitting at 23.0 in the midst of his third NBA season. As the Timberwolves continue to learn how to win under head coach Tom Thibodeau, the young stars will start to develop more NBA stardom in future years.
14. 2014 #2 – Jabari Parker
Projection: Supporting cast to Giannis Antetokounmpo
If Jabari Parker can end up shaking the injury bug, he could end up playing in his own All Star Games, but for now it is safe to say his future looks solid playing alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee as the second option. The 2014 number two overall pick out of Duke University will be looking to return from his second ACL injury during the 2017-2018 season. In 51 games before his season ending injury, Parker had improved his career highs up to 20.1 PPG, 6.1 RPG, and 2.8 APG while playing an also career high 33.9 minutes per night. It is tough to say if his injuries will ever help him land an All Star nod, but Parker should still be able to come back and fulfill a role for the Milwaukee Bucks.
13. 2014 #3 – Joel Embiid
Projection: NBA All Star, All NBA
Another young star stricken by injuries. Embiid was in the midst of a season where he was a borderline NBA All Star during his first season since being drafted in 2014. Embiid was enjoying a season in which he earned Rookie of the Month honors, as well as an Eastern Conference Player of the Week, before he again was shut down for the season. This time with a knee injury. Embiid still looks like the building block of the 76ers future alongside other youngsters Ben Simmons and Dario Saric, but if the injuries never set aside his future may be less than promised. During his 31 career NBA games, Embiid posted 20.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG, and 2.8 BPG while playing just 25.4 minutes per game.
12. 2014 #4 – Aaron Gordon
Projection: Future Sixth Man of the Year candidate
As seen in his 2016 NBA Slam Dunk Contest display, Gordon is a young athletic forward who supplies energy to the game. This combination should help Gordon carve out a role as a high end sixth man in the future. The number 4 overall pick by the Orlando Magic in 2014, Gordon is enjoying career highs in 2016-2017 in minutes, points, assists and three point attempts. He is still on a sub par Orlando Magic team that has won just 25 and 35 games during Gordon’s first two seasons. The team looks again to be on the verge of finishing the season in the basement, and will look to add more young talent in the 2017 NBA Draft. If the Magic can make a turnaround, maybe Gordon’s career will succeed with it.
11. 2014 #5 – Dante Exum
Projection: Journeyman back up point guard
Dante Exum was highly coveted coming up to the 2014 draft. A 6 foot 6 inch point guard from Australia, although still only 21, Exum has not been able to find his niche in the NBA game as of yet. After averaging 22.2 minutes and starting 41 games his rookie year, Exum missed all of 2015-2016 due to injury and his playing time has been down from his rookie year in 2016-2017 as well. During the current season, Exum is averaging 6.5 points, .3 steals, 1.6 assists and 1.8 rebounds. He is shooting 43 perecent from the field and 27 percent from three point. At age 21, Exum still has time to develop into a serviceable guard and has shown flashes of improvement during the season. To go along with his age, his length should provide him with a chance at lengthy NBA career.
10. 2015 #1 – Karl-Anthony Towns
Projection: NBA All Star, All NBA, MVP candidate
Like teammate Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns was Rookie of the Year of his class, and added First Team All Rookie honors. KAT was widely regarded as one of the biggest snubs to be left out of this year’s All Star game, so it should be expected he makes perennial appearances in future. The former Kentucky Wildcat has upped his averages from 18.3 PPG to 24.5, 10.5 RPG to 12.3, 2.0 APG to 2.8, and 32.0 MPG to 36.7. Towns is the NBA prototype of the modern day big man. He has upped his rookie average of 1.1 three point attempts to 3.3 per game, while upping his three point shooting average to 35 percent on the current season. It is also borderline that we could add future NBA Champion to his projection as well.
9. 2015 #2 – D’Angelo Russell
Projection: NBA Bust, Back up point guard
It may be a little unfair being he has played on some bad all around Los Angeles Lakers teams, but that is also due in part to some of the play he has displayed. For the guy who claims to have ice in his veins, some of Russell’s numbers have dipped from his rookie year into his second. His minutes, field goal percentage, and two point field goal percentage are down from a year ago, and his three point percentage still sits right at the league average. The Lakers plan to sport out their young core for years to come which includes D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram, and Jordan Clarkson. But with the team showing little improvement, the questions will begin to be asked with who’s at fault.
8. 2015 #3 – Jahlil Okafor
Projection: Reliable big man scoring off the bench (not in Philadelphia)
Jahlil Okafor entered the league with much hype after winning a National Championship at Duke while being named a consensus All American. Some saw Okafor falling to third overall as a steal for Philadelphia. Okafor averaged 17.5 points and 7 rebounds in 53 games his rookie year en route to a NBA All Rookie First Team.
His second season has been the complete opposite of what was expected. The Sixers developed a log jam at center when Joel Embiid finally returned and was added to the group of Okafor, Nerlens Noel, and Richaud Holmes. Although Okafor secured a 6th man role at first it soon came clear he didn’t fit with what Philly was doing. He has appeared in just 46 games this season and looks poised to be moved in the offseason where maybe he can find a role elsewhere.
7. 2015 #4 – Kristaps Porzingis
Projection: NBA All Star
Another member for the All Rookie First Team, Porzingis has continued to showcase his future potential. Porzingis has upped almost every category from his rookie season into his second year with the exception of free throw percentage, which could be accredited to him attempting more this year than last. Porzingis is currently enjoying a season with 18.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.9 blocks and is shooting better than the league average from three at 37.3 percent.
Porzingis is stuck in a messy situation with the New York Knicks. Bad contracts, selfish personnel, and a confusing front office has been the story of their 2016-2017 situation. Once the franchise can begin to build around Porzingis, the team will finally be back on the right track.
6. 2015 #5 – Mario Hezonja
Projection: Will return to playing professionally overseas
The Croatian native played professionally for Barcelona before being drafted 5th overall by the Orlando Magic in 2015. Whether it has been a lack of opportunity or the change to the Americanized game, Hezonja has seen his playing time and statistics drop dramatically between his rookie year and second year. During his rookie year Hezonja put up 6.1 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.4 apg, and shot 50 percent from the field while averaging 17.9 minutes. In his second season, his minutes have dropped from the 17.9 down to 12.9 per night and every statistical category has dropped along with his playing time. Hezonja is under contract through 2017-2018 with a team option the following year. Remains to be seen where his career goes from there.
5. 2016 #1 – Ben Simmons
Projection: NBA All Star, Assist leader
Well, he hasn’t played a single NBA game yet, but the vision Simmons possesses on the court is something we know can translate into the NBA game. Simmons injured his foot during the last weeks of training camp. He played with the 76ers summer league team only to be sidelined prior to the NBA pre season. The 76ers have developed a nice core of young talent ranging from Dario Saric and Joel Embiid to the emergence of Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Justin Anderson. The 76ers seem poised to add at least one player in the top 10 of the 2017 NBA Draft, and when Simmons gets back on the floor, he will have plenty of options to find as he drives the paint. Should be fun…
4. 2016 #2 – Brandon Ingram
Projection: NBA All Star
Ingram has not had the best of rookie seasons. He was selected second overall by the Lakers as a long shooter who could score from all over the court, but he has failed to get going consistently in the NBA game as of yet. Ingram is averaging 8.5 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 28.7 minutes per night. The more eye popping stats, that will most likely change with experience and as the Lakers mold the offense around him, are his shooting percentages. His strength was his highly proficient scoring at Duke, but thus far Ingram is shooting 38 percent on 8 field goal attempts per game, while shooting 28 percent on 2.4 three point attempts per game. All signs would not point to a future NBA All Star, but next year you have to think the Lakers will build the offense around Ingram.
3. 2016 #3 – Jaylen Brown
Projection: Role Player, Future Sixth Man of the Year candidate
Jaylen Brown is in the unique situation of playing for a top Eastern Conference team despite the Celtics picking in the top 5 of the NBA Draft for what will be two straight years. The Celtics currently sit as the number 2 seed in the East, and Brown has proven to be a contributor playing 16.9 minutes per game. One of Brown’s main knocks out of college was his shot selection and questionable jumper. He has proven to improve shooting 45 percent and just under 36 percent from three, just around the league average. The rookie out of Cal will garner NBA and NBA Playoff experience quicker than anyone on our list, and one day could carve out a key role for a very good Celtics team.
2. 2016 #4 – Dragan Bender
Projection: Late bloomer, NBA starting center
By looking at his current rookie year stats, one would wonder if Bender would go down as a bust. But then we can remember that he is still only 19 gaining experience in the NBA game. Bender has appeared in just 38 games his rookie season, due in part to a bone spur in his ankle. During his playing time Bender has managed 3.2 points, 2.2 rebounds and .5 blocks in 12.7 minutes per game. Like we said, not stats that jump of the page and will make you believe in much improvement. But at 19, Bender has managed multiple double digit scoring games, and gathered his first career double double on December 26th. Bender will be a project for a number of years, but will one day make the Suns pick worth it.
1. 2016 #5 – Kris Dunn
Projection: Backup NBA point guard, future veteran starter
At the number five overall pick, labeling him as a career NBA backup point guard Dunn may seem like a bust potentially. Many thought upon the Timberwolves selecting Dunn that he would be taking over for Ricky Rubio, once the T’Wolves found a trade partner for the veteran out of Spain. Thus far in the season, Rubio is still commanding point and Dunn is playing 16.4 minutes per game. The second team All American in college was actually selected amongst his NBA rookie peers as the most likely to win NBA Rookie of the Year, but with averages of 3.6 points, 2.4 assits, 2.1 rebounds, and .9 steals it appears that award will be going elsewhere.