The 2016 NBA Draft was a two horse race, with Ben Simmons (LSU) and Brandon Ingram (Duke) flipping the order on what seemed to be a nightly basis. With both the Philadelphia 76ers and LA Lakers needing impact players, some figured that maybe the picks would be traded for immediate help, while others though they'd be content to sit back and watch the young prospects grow. After the first two picks, it seemed like one could have thrown darts blindfolded or drawn names out of a hat in relation to the rhyme and reason why some teams made their selections.
Yes, it is a given that teams and fans won't know how the draft will rank in terms of a strong or weak draft for at least three to five years, as many of these players are barely, if at all, twenty years of age. When you look at who was drafted and where, chances are that only a handful of players will crack the opening night starting five, whereas others may find themselves starting their pro careers overseas or in the NBA D-League.
Many teams, fans and "experts" were already looking ahead to the 2017 class even before Simmons shook Adam Silver's hand. While the 2016 NBA Draft failed to provide a franchise changing player like Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal and other notable greats, it certainly does not mean that a number of the players selected this past summer won't have an impact with their teams, though there are an equal number that may have been better off staying as the BMOC (Big Man On Campus). With that in mind, here's are 8 rookies who will make a splash and 7 who should've stayed in school!
**Disclaimer - Who are we to tell these guys to turn down million dollar contracts in order to stay in school, eat cafeteria food and write exams for another year*
19 15. Make a Splash: Denzel Valentine
Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo. That is the pecking order for the wing/backcourt in Chicago. On paper, it really doesn’t leave much hope for an incoming rookie to find substantial minutes. Add in Doug McDermott, Tony Snell and Jerian Grant and one has to wonder why Valentine is on this list. First off, the Michigan State senior has proven to be a solid contributor at either guard spot, running the offense for Tom Izzo or sliding over to the off guard spot and draining 40% from downtown. Valentine is a versatile guard who can push the ball in transition, run the pick and roll or play off the ball. When you look at the number of games that the starting trio found themselves on the sideline in suits over the last few years, the chances are high that Valentine will find minutes throughout the season, especially if the Bulls are in the playoff hunt and Coach Fred Hoiberg wants to keep his star players rested and healthy. While Valentine won’t light up the league in any category, he will contribute to the team across the board.
18 14. Stay In School: Henry Ellenson
The Detroit Pistons seemed to make this pick as a player to stash for the future. With a logjam up front consisting of Marcus Morris, Tobias Harris, Andre Drummond and Jon Leuer, time could be sparse for the former Marquette big man. Had he not left college after one season, despite his double double average, Ellenson could have worked on developing his game and strengthening his weaknesses. While he has the measurements to play inside, at only 19 years old he doesn’t yet have 'man' strength. Add in limited foot speed and challenges stepping outside to guard new age big men and another year on campus would have given Ellenson an opportunity to develop these skills that are essential in surviving the current NBA game.
17 13. Make a Splash: Damian Jones
The average NCAA fan may not know the name, but the Vanderbilt junior should fit in perfectly with the Golden State Warriors now that Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli have taken their talents elsewhere. That leaves only Zaza Pachulia and Anderson Varejao in front of the rookie for big man minutes. Sure the Warriors can plug a crazy small ball lineup of Draymond Green at the five, Kevin Durant at the four, Andre Iguodala at the three, Klay Thompson at the two and Steph Curry at the one, but at some point Coach Steve Kerr is going to need some size in the paint, cue Jones. While Pachulia should get the start, he doesn’t really scream defensive threat, whereas Jones averaged nearly two blocks a game during his three years with the Commodores. To be honest, with the starting four that GSW is putting on the floor, it would be hard for any big man not to succeed based purely on running the floor and rebounding.
16 13. Stay in School: Stephen Zimmerman
Starting 24 of 26 games for the Runnin’ Rebels must have tainted some of Zimmerman’s thinking when he declared for the draft following his freshman season. Considering it was his first year on campus, the 10.6 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2 blocks per game, there was certainly some optimism that Zimmerman would have a decent pro career, just not yet. Had he been drafted by a different team, Zimmerman may have a brighter future in the NBA, but the Orlando Magic stocked up on big men this summer and the only chance of making an impact with the team will come during warmup lay-up lines. Sitting behind newly acquired Serge Ibaka, Jeff Green and Bismack Biyombo, not to mention sixth year starting big man Nikola Vucevic, bet on a lot of long nights in street clothes and warmup suits for Zimmerman.
15 12. Make a Splash: Deyonta Davis
Had he remained in Boston, he would have had to fight a crowded frontcourt for minutes, but in Memphis he only has to battle with Z-Bo. As Zach Randolph heads into the twilight of his career, cutting down on his minutes may be key for the Grizzlies to enjoy a long season or to embrace a rebuild. Either way, Davis was a projected top 30 pick that slid to the second round. Think of Davis as “Randolph2k17,” as both played a single season for Michigan State, both stand roughly 6’9”-6”10, both play the power forward spot, though Davis has more athleticism than the ground bound Randolph, and ultimately both will be looked to help keep the Grizzlies relevant in the tough Western Conference. Even if they don't manage to do that, Davis will have a solid mentor who can help him become a solid big man in the NBA.
14 11. Stay in School: Diamond Stone
The one and done Maryland Terrapin should have stayed in College Park. Sure he had no clue that the LA Clippers who are deep up front would draft him (maybe as insurance if Blake Griffin decided to leave town), but the amount of talent in front of him on Doc Rivers' depth chart will make Stone question his decision for the entire season. Stone, a big body standing 6’10” and 255lbs, has a decent midrange game despite making his worth in the paint. As with many young big men, there are concerns surrounding his athleticism and ability to keep up in the NBA transition game. Imagine if Stone stayed at school for one more season, teaming with Melo Trimble and freshman Justin Jackson, he could've further his development and maybe even been a higher draft pick.
13 10. Make a Splash: Jamal Murray
The Blue Arrow is taking his talents to Denver to join what could be a sleeper team in the Western Conference playoff race. After one season in Kentucky, the Canadian combo guard will try to break the Nuggets starting lineup. Ahead of Murray on the depth charts are Emmanuel Mudiay (PG), Gary Harris and Will Barton (SG). While he played the shooting guard role in Kentucky beside Tyler Ulis, Murray has spent time as the lead guard with the Canadian National team. The great position that Murray finds himself in is that there is no pressure on him, despite being a high draft pick. Able to create off the dribble, transition or spread the floor with his range, there is little doubt that the Nuggets won’t be able to find him some quality minutes each night. As a freshman, Murray led Kentucky with 20 points per game, on 45.4% shooting from the field and 40.8% from three point territory, including 113 threes in his only college season (second only to Steph Curry as far as freshmen go).
12 8. Stay in School: Dejounte Murray
Imagine how crazy Alaska Airlines Arena would be this season had Dejounte Murray and fellow Washington Husky Marquese Chriss stayed on campus to team up with all world freshman Markelle Fultz. Unfortunately UW fans, Fultz, Chriss and Murray will never know. While Murray will sit behind Tony Parker and Patty Mills this season and possibly next year as well, the Spurs hope they picked up their point guard of the future with the 29th pick. A 6’5” athletic point guard, Murray has shown the Spurs his struggles taking care of the ball and finding his teammates in the pro game, despite averaging 4.4 assists last year for the Huskies. At 19 years old, Murray (and Chriss for that matter) most likely would have been better served playing one more year for Coach Romar, but if you are going to sit and learn for a year, there are few options better than to sit beside Coach Pop and have Parker as a mentor.
11 7. Make a Splash: Kris Dunn
The Minnesota Timberwolves are in a “win now’ mindset. With the trio of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine as the core in which the club is building around, the question becomes what to do with point guards Ricky Rubio and rookie Kris Dunn. There are a number of experts ready to put Rubio on the trade block, citing that he is the weakness in the Wolves starting lineup. However despite his struggles shooting the ball, Rubio does provide the team with a pass first option at the point guard spot and a solid on ball defender. New coach Tom Thibodeau loves defensive minded players, which helps Rubio’s cause, but at the same time the team wouldn’t have spent the fifth overall pick to sit a player on the bench. The benefit that Dunn provides the Wolves is like Rubio, he is a defensive threat, but unlike Rubio, Dunn has the ability to put the ball in the basket. The former Providence Friar notched an impressive 27 points against Denver in the Summer League, while adding 9 rebounds and 4 assists against Toronto. Odds are Dunn will in fact come off the bench to start the season, but don’t be shocked that he plays well enough to give reason for the Wolves to move Rubio come the trade deadline.
10 6. Stay in School: Daniel Hamilton
A third year playing for the UConn Huskies would have been the best decision for Daniel Hamilton, who at this time has not signed a contract with the OKC Thunder or any other team in the NBA. A second round pick by the Thunder, Hamilton struggled to impress scouts in both the Draft Combine and Summer League. While he provided the Huskies with great rebounding and assist numbers as a wing player, his lack of range offensively and limited explosiveness leads many to believe he will have to spend some time overseas or the D-League before trying to catch on with a club next season. It already appears to be an uphill battle for 6'7" guard/forward, who averaged 11.7 points per game during his two years at UConn.
9 5. Make a Splash: Brandon Ingram
Quick, name more than three NBA players from Duke who have turned a franchise around? Stuck after Kyrie Irving (questionable) and Grant Hill? The LA Lakers are banking that the 6'9" forward will step up from day one and join the trio of D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle in returning the team to the upper echelon of the Western Conference standings. Some feel that the rookie forward needs some time to learn the pro game behind Luol Deng, while others believe that, despite his lanky frame, Ingram should be able to step in right away for the Lakers at the small forward spot.
Honestly, at this point, considering their record over the past few years, it won’t hurt to throw Ingram into the fire and see how he does. During his summer league stint, Ingram averaged 12.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and almost two helpers per game in just under 28 minutes of action, including a high of 22 points and 4 assists against Utah and 7 rebounds against Golden State.
8 4. Stay in School: Skal Labissiere
The former Kentucky Wildcat was supposed to light the NCAA on fire and compete with Simmons and Ingram for the top pick in the 2016 draft. That boat quickly sailed. It wasn’t as though Labissiere didn’t have opportunity with Coach Cal’s club, it’s just that he didn’t produce when given the chance. Playing just over 15 minutes a night, the rail thin 6'11" forward put up “meh” averages of 6.6 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game, which nothing to really get excited about. Chances are high that either he will be used as a punching bag for Boogie Cousins or an extended tour with the D-League. Which is worse? We'll go with the first one and we think he'll quickly regret not staying at Kentucky for another year to improve his draft status.
7 3. Make a Splash: Buddy Hield
The worst thing about sports is to take advantage of someone else’s misfortune, however that is the picture painted in front of Hield as he enters his rookie season with the New Orleans Pelicans. With point guard Jrue Holiday missing the start (and possibly more) of the season due to his wife’s health reasons and Tyreke Evans on the mend following knee surgery, the Pelicans may look to slide Hield into the starting five right off the bat. While the Oklahoma Sooner senior had his shooting struggles in Summer League, Coach Alvin Gentry has confidence that it is just an adjustment that all rookies make as they transition to the NBA game. One of the major components that forward Anthony Davis has been missing recently with the Pelicans has been a deadeye long range shooter when he gets double teamed in the paint and once Hield gets his feet wet, look for the duo to cause fits for opposing coaches. Add in Holiday when he returns and the transition game, drive and kick and pick and roll options in New Orleans could be something special to watch.
6 2. Stay in School: Thon Maker
A collective “WHOO WHAAT?” could be heard NBA-wide as the Milwaukee Bucks selected the 7’1” unknown from Orangeville Prep in Canada (via Texas, via Australia, via South Sudan). The outlook on Maker is either he is going to be a giant stud or a giant bust, nobody really knows. His Summer League stats give optimism that the forward can be something special in the league, as he averaged 14.2 points and nearly 10 boards. However when you look at the young Bucks roster, one has to wonder where he fits in as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and either Greg Monroe or Miles Plumlee have the starting forward spots on lock. Throw in John Henson, Mirza Teletovic, along with whomever doesn’t start at the five, and Maker looks to be riding a lot of pine this season. The raw forward most likely would have been better off with a year in the NCAA playing for either Kentucky, Kansas or Indiana and learning the ropes rather than pulling splinters.
5 1. Make a Splash: Ben Simmons
The 6'10" freshman from LSU looks set to crack the Philadelphia 76'er lineup on opening night at the small forward position, previously manned by Robert Covington. While the fourth year forward provided the Sixers with a solid stat line during his time on the court and in the starting lineup, the addition of the Australian man-child bumps the Tennessee State alum to either the power forward spot or as the first man off the bench. Simmons, who has notably struggled with his shooting, has the weight of the franchise on his shoulders, a weight previously put upon previous draft picks Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid. While his shooting touch is a work in progress, Simmons has shown his value elsewhere on the court with a versatile 12.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game throughout his four Summer League schedule, including a high of 18 points (Chicago), 10 rebounds (Lakers and Miami) and 8 assists (Lakers). Coach Brett Brown has already stated that Simmons will have the ball in his hands a lot this season in a Scottie Pippen manner.
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