There is a lot of time between now and the 2017 NBA Draft June 22 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. The talent has a unique dynamic of college stars who spent one year or more and players who make their way from the international circuit. One player might be all it takes for a team to make a leap from the cellar of their division to a potential playoff dark horse.
Teams like the Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers are likely going to have a wide selection of players to help them in their rebuilding process. It might be another year or two for some of the teams in the top 10 of the draft. But for other teams, they happen to be in the perfect position to add to their already well-built roster.
The Boston Celtics are the favorites to have the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft. While that and the second through 14th picks will be officially decided through the NBA Lottery Draft on May 16, one has to like the odds of the Celtics building stronger after their 53-29 regular season in 2016-17 to earn the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Unlike in other major sports leagues, the NBA Draft only has two rounds. This means teams may have just a few selections to improve their roster; unless they traded them in recent years. But there are a number of talented young players looking for their chance to make the transition to the NBA.
The following is a projection of the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft before the NBA Lottery Draft. Picks 1-14 are based on the odds of each team winning the first overall pick on May 16.
32 Boston Celtics – Markelle Fultz (PG, Washington)
No surprise here as many people have Washington point guard Markelle Fultz being selected with the No. 1 pick. Boston is currently has the best odds of winning the top pick after receiving the rights to Brooklyn’s pick. While the Celtics currently have two great point guards in Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley, it’s hard to pass on someone with the talents and abilities that Fultz brings to the table.
Fultz played one season with the Washington Huskies, averaging 23.2 points and converting on 47.6 percent of his field goals. He’s young and can benefit from playing under Thomas, who says the two would coexist. Fultz (six feet, four inches) is also a different build than Thomas (five feet, nine inches); creating a change of pace if Fultz is used as the team’s sixth man.
31 L.A. Lakers – Lonzo Ball (PG, UCLA)
There’s a good chance you’re tired of hearing the Ball name. Mostly because of the patriarch of the Ball “dynasty,” LaVar. But the one thing that is true is his oldest son Lonzo from UCLA is going to be a high draft pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. Considering his ties to Southern California, Ball would likely be a proper choice by the Los Angeles Lakers. While Ball didn’t average a ton of points like other top prospects, he shows he contributes in other ways.
Ball averaged 7.6 assists per game, which means he knows how to find open teammates for scoring opportunities. Last season, the Lakers’ leader in assists was D’Angelo Russell with just 4.8 assists. Ball is also good when he does take shots as he converted on 55.1 percent from the field and 41.2 percent beyond the three-point arc.
30 Philadelphia 76ers – Malik Monk (PG, Kentucky)
The Philadelphia 76ers were dead last in scoring offense as they once again finished as one of the worst teams in the NBA. But they certainly improved from the previous season’s 10 wins after the addition of center Joel Embiid. Add a quality point guard and the 76ers might find themselves building a playoff contender sooner rather than later. Drafting point guard Malik Monk out of Kentucky would be the next step in that direction.
Monk averaged 19.8 points per game in a very competitive Southeastern Conference while averaging just 14.7 shots per game. If he can continue his 45 percent field goal accuracy at the NBA level, Monk would form a good duo with Embiid, who averaged 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds for Philadelphia.
29 Phoenix Suns – Josh Jackson (SF, Kansas)
The Phoenix Suns might have been a top-10 team in scoring per game. But they were the worst in terms of defense with 113.3 points per game allowed. Kansas’ Josh Jackson looks like a good choice that can help improve the defense immediately while also adding to their offense. During his one season with the Jayhawks, Jackson was collecting more than seven rebounds per game, while also averaging 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. He also averaged 16.3 points per game.
The two shooting forwards from last year’s Phoenix roster include T.J. Warren and Derrick Jones. Warren’s scoring has improved with increased minutes, but is not collecting a large amount of rebounds per game. Neither did Jones in his 32 games last season. Jackson could be plugged in and immediately contribute as the Suns hope to leave the Western Conference’s basement.
26 Sacramento Kings – Dennis Smith, Jr. (PG, NC State)
Dennis Smith, Jr., has a lot of skills that can be essential for helping the Sacramento Kings rebuild. During his one season at North Carolina State, Smith averaged 18.1 points per game while converting 45.5 percent of his field goals. He also demonstrated his ability to share the ball with teammates while averaging 6.2 assists per game. He also did well on defense with 1.9 steals per game in the tough Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Kings certainly struggled on both sides of the ball and as we know, ended up trading Boogie Cousins. Smith’s numbers show signs of being able to improve them on both sides of the court. The Kings managed to move up in the draft following the lottery so drafting Smith would be a huge help.
25 Orlando Magic – Jonathan Isaac (SF, Florida State)
The Magic are in a rebuild and this draft will give them a chance to load up on some young talent. One possible option for the Timberwolves would be to select Florida State forward Jonathan Isaac. While averaging 12 points per game for the Seminoles last season, he was effective inside the pain with 7.8 rebounds per game and one-and-a-half blocks per game. His game seems like it should translate to the NBA level.
Isaac, who stands at six feet and 10 inches, can provide more size to complement the Magic's starting lineup. The Magic are throwing the likes of Evan Fourier, Elfrid Payton and Nikola Vucevic on the court, so Isaac should give them a good boost. It's hard to see him sliding down any further than sixth.
24 Minnesota Timberwolves – De’Aaron Fox (PG, Kentucky)
In all honesty it's more likely that the Timberwolves trade their first round pick rather than keep it. One notable player the Wolves should consider is De’Aaron Fox out of Kentucky.
Fox averaged 16.7 points per game in college last season and also contributed with 4.6 assists per game. The hope would be that Fox can be someone that helps set up scoring opportunities for Minnesota's top offensive threats. If it's not with the Wolves, the team can also consider trading Fox to a team in need of a point guard like the Knicks, who are just one pick below them. The one flaw that is concerning for the Wildcat PG is his struggles behind the arc; shooting 24.6 percent for three-point field goals in Kentucky.
23 New York Knicks – Frank Ntilikina (PG, France)
The New York Knicks are a complete mess and following the NBA Draft Lottery, they moved down one spot from seven to eight. They'll miss out on some North American talent, but it presents an opportunity. The Knicks already have one European star so why not go after another?
One point guard getting a lot of attention is French point guard Frank Ntilikina. He will be 19 when he plays in the NBA season and a lot of NBA scouts fell in love with him during the 2016 FIBA U18 European Championship. After battling with an illness early, he finished with an average of 22.7 points, 6.7 assists and 3.2 steals as France would win. Ntilikina also converted on 58.6 percent of his three-point field goals in tournament.
22 Dallas Mavericks – Lauri Markkanen (PF, Arizona)
The likelihood of Dirk Nowitzki’s retirement is likely coming soon as he will enter his 20th season in 2017-18. In the last few years, Dallas has also done a great job of building the team for when he does eventually leave the NBA and may draft his clone in Arizona power forward Laura Markkenen. The Finnish-born forward stands seven feet tall and has a lot of the skills that remind basketball fans of a young Nowitzki.
In his one season at Arizona, Markkanen averaged 15.6 and 7.2 rebounds per game while making 42.3 percent of his three-point field goals. There aren’t a lot of seven foot players who have a high three-point percentage. But Nowitzki does. The two are so similar that the 13-time NBA All-Star can likely be a mentor that passes the torch to Markkanen.
21 Sacramento Kings – Justin Jackson (SF, North Carolina)
Possibly having two picks in the top-10 means that the Sacramento Kings can acquire the talent to push towards a playoff spot in the 2017-18 season. In an effort to play Devil’s Advocate, maybe small forward Rudy Gay won’t opt in with the Kings and goes elsewhere in the NBA. That would leave a big gap for the Kings to fill. A good option would be North Carolina’s Justin Jackson.
The All-American from last season had an incredible year leading the Tar Heels to the NCAA Championship – averaging 18.3 points per game. The 2016-17 ACC Player of the Year did see a drop in his field goal percentage from the first two season at North Carolina. Part of that was becoming the leader who took more shots. His experience makes him worth a top-10 pick in the draft.
20 Charlotte Hornets – Zach Collins (C, Gonzaga)
The Charlotte Hornets find themselves in a situation where they have a few good players like Kemba Walker who can keep the team in most of their games. But one of the biggest weaknesses on the roster comes at center. The Hornets have two seven-foot players in power forward Cody Zeller and center Frank Kaminsky. Neither of them averaged at least one block per game. In fact, the Hornets leading blocker was forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (one block per game).
While some might think that Gonzaga center Zach Collins could have used another year in college, he certainly has some defensive skills to help fill a glaring void in Charlotte. With an average of 1.8 blocks in 39 games, Collins would be an upgrade. While he averaged just 10 points per game, he was converting on 67.2 percent of his field goals.
19 Detroit Pistons – Jayson Tatum (SF, Duke)
The Detroit Pistons need help when it comes to scoring. Despite having the eighth ranked scoring defense, the Pistons were in the bottom third for offensive points per game. While they could make an attempt to trade up in the draft, there are some talented forwards that will likely fall past No. 10. One of them could be Duke’s Jayson Tatum. Averaging 16.8 points per game and making 45.2 percent of his field goals last season, he could be helpful in the boards.
Tatum averaged 7.3 rebounds as a freshman. Only one player from Detroit averaged more than six rebounds per game as Andre Drummond had 13.8 total rebounds for the Pistons. The second-leading rebounder was Jon Leuer with 5.4. More rebounds leads to more second chance points and that’s what Detroit should think about when looking at Tatum.
18 Denver Nuggets – Tyler Lydon (PF, Syracuse)
While the Denver Nuggets have a couple of power forwards currently on their roster, there’s a chance to add another that can help open up the scoring even more. Syracuse’s Tyler Lydon had a pretty successful sophomore season with the Orange with 13.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. But what he also has is a decent three-point percentage in college. He shot 40.5 percent in 2015-16. It dropped a bit to a still-respectable 39.2 percent last season.
Having a deep range can allow for his teammates to be able to drive the lane for easier baskets, which means Denver could be better than last season’s third-ranked scoring offense. Additionally, Lydon also could be very effective on defense with a two-season average of 1.6 blocks per game.
17 Miami Heat – Ivan Rabb (F, California)
Even before the start of this basketball season, fans were starting to learn as much as they could about Ivan Rabb. The California forward turned some heads as a freshman with 12.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game in 2015-16. He was also shooting 61.5 percent from the field. He grew more as a sophomore and saw increases in his numbers. Even though his field goal percentage fell to 49, he averaged 14 points and 10.5 rebounds.
The Miami Heat need another big body who can be effective on the boards. While Hassan Whiteside led the team with 14.5 rebounds per game, only Justise Winslow averaged more than five per game. Having two bigger bodies in the paint can help push them to above the 41-41 record, which is historically good enough to get into the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
16 Portland Trail Blazers – Isaiah Hartenstein (F, International)
Isaiah Hartenstein will be 19 years old when he plays in his first NBA game this season. But he’s made a name for himself in Europe as one of the best big men this generation. At seven feet tall and 250 pounds, he has the size to be extremely dominant within a few years. Scouts have found that he knows how to use his size while being able to move fluidly on the court. He’s strongly improving on his shooting while playing in Lithuania and has even been found to be physical in rebounding.
While the Portland Trail Blazers have a decent seven-footer in Jusuf Nurkic, Hartenstein can become a replacement for power forward Meyers Leonard, who has averaged only 5.4 points and 3.2 rebounds per game. Because Hartenstein is still young and can be emotional at times, he can develop under fellow big men Nurkic and Mason Plumlee as he grows in the NBA.
15 Chicago Bulls – Rodions Kurucs (F, International)
The Chicago Bulls have found some success with international players. A perfect example can be found in the emergence of Montenegro’s Nikola Mirotic. So it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to see the Bulls go for some more international flavor to add to the 2017-18 roster. Rodions Kurucs is a Latvian-born power forward who has developed quite the versatility since he first played professionally in Europe at age 16 and has since played for FC Barcelona.
His highlight tapes online show that he has the kind of shooting range that is great for the NBA-level. One concern is that he will likely need to add some weight to his six-foot-eight frame. He will likely provide some depth for the Bulls while acting in a supporting role at first. But his natural scoring abilities will likely lead to him slowly gaining more playing time as the season progresses.
14 Milwaukee Bucks –T.J. Leaf (F, UCLA)
The Milwaukee Bucks are certainly on the rise with a team built around young talents in Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker. While Parker is a very good power forward, it wouldn’t hurt to build a sixth man option behind him by drafting T.J. Leaf out of UCLA. While having played only one season in college, Leaf had some very impressive numbers while averaging 16.3 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.
At six feet and 10 inches, Leaf has a very good range. His stat line support that as he made 61.7 percent of his field goals last season. This includes converting on 46.6 percent of his shots from behind the three-point arc. Leaf could become the No. 2 power forward as Michael Beasley’s production has dropped since his 19.2 points per game back in the 2010-11 season.
13 Indiana Pacers – Sindarius Thornwell (SG, South Carolina)
The Indiana Pacers had some decent success, but will likely need to find new players to continue to progress in a tough Central Division. One of their weakest parts of the roster from last season was at the shooting guard position. Both Monta Ellis (8.5 points per game) and Lance Stephenson (7.2 PPG) were barely factors for the Pacers. One player who will likely be available at No. 18 is South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell.
One of the rare four-year players entering the draft, Thornwell had his best season as a senior. He averaged 21.4 points, 7.2 rebound and made 44.5 percent from the field to win the SEC Player of the Year. He’s the kind of player who has improved every season while with the Gamecocks and will likely improve more when he gets to the NBA.
12 Atlanta Hawks – Donovan Mitchell (SG, Louisville)
The Atlanta Hawks had just one shooting guard on their roster in the 2016-17 season – Tim Hardaway. While he was pretty good with 14.5 points per game and a shooting percentage of 45.5 percent, it’s good to add depth at that position. One option that would make sense is Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell. He certainly improved and benefitted from playing a sophomore season in college.
His scoring improved to 15.6 points per game with an average of nearly five rebounds. He also improved in three-point range from 25 percent as a freshman to 35.4 percent last season. In addition to his improved offense, Mitchell also developed into quite a defensive guard by averaging more than two steals per game. That would be an improvement with no one averaging more than the one-and-a-half that Thabo Sefolosha had.
11 Portland Trail Blazers – Monte Morris (PG, Iowa State)
With only two point guards currently under their roster, the Portland Trail Blazers could draft a point guard to possibly act as a No. 2 behind Damian Lillard. Monte Morris is another rare example of someone who played all four years in college before entering the NBA Draft. Morris had a great senior season at Iowa State with 16.4 points per game while averaging 6.2 assists and 4.8 rebounds.
Morris would be valuable for getting the ball to teammates, which would make him a good player to come on the court when Lillard gets rest. While he’s maintained a good field goal percentage with 46.5 percent last season, he also saw huge improvements at the free throw line as he made 80.2 percent. Before, he was making just 72.9 percent as a junior in 2015-16.
10 Oklahoma City Thunder – Johnathan Motley (PF, Baylor)
The Oklahoma City Thunder is still a strong team in the Western Conference, but could certainly use more talent at the power forward position. Aside from Taj Gibson, the Thunder don’t have a lot coming from that position that can help contribute. Johnathan Motley has shown this last season that he can be a strong power forward who can eventually take on a starting role in the NBA – especially with how he improved as a junior at Baylor.
Motley averaged 17.3 points per game while playing more than 30 minutes per game. He was effective inside the paint while making 52.2 percent from the field. He was also strong on the boards with an average of 9.9 rebounds with the Bears. The only person to average a double-double for the Thunder was Russell Westbrook, with Steven Adams averaging 7.7 rebounds last season.
9 Brooklyn Nets – Harry Giles (PF, Duke)
Apparently, college statistics don’t mean much. At least that seems to be the case when it comes to how experts are projecting power forward Harry Giles in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft. Giles averaged 3.9 points and 3.8 rebounds while playing 11.5 minutes for the Duke Blue Devils this past season. But there was a time when he was considered one of the county’s top high school recruits.
While some might argue he should play one more season at Duke – especially with two ACL injuries in high school and another that kept him out 11 games this past season – he is someone a lot of draft experts thinks can help a team. The Brooklyn Nets could use another power forward as both Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and K.J. McDaniels aren’t major contributors.
8 Toronto Raptors – Frank Mason III (PG, Kansas)
Frank Mason III won a lot of awards this past college basketball season. In addition to being named an All-American, Mason was given the Wooden Award for the best college basketball player in 2016-17. As a senior, he averaged 20.9 points, 5.2 assists and 4.2 rebounds as one of the best players on the Jayhawks roster. It almost seems a little unfair that he’s overshadowed a little by Josh Jackson.
The Toronto Raptors have Kyle Lowry as their main point guard (22.4 PPG, 7.0 ASP). But the Raptors could use another point guard, especially with Lowry announcing he'll be opting out of his contract. Mason would become the No. 2 man at that position who can come off the bench. He would certainly be an improvement over Deion Wright and Fred VanVleet; both averaging less than six points per game.
7 Utah Jazz – Caleb Swanigan (PF, Purdue)
Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan has a likeable story as someone who grew up facing homelessness and obesity. And now he finds himself in a very good position to become a first-round selection in the 2017 NBA Draft. Swanigan had a great season last year as a sophomore power forward to lead the Boilermakers to a 27-8 record. The Big Ten Player of the Year averaged 18.5 points and 12.5 rebounds while converting on 52.7 percent of his field goals.
The Utah Jazz could use some fresh blood at the power forward position. Derrick Favors hasn’t been a dependable, consistent player with 9.5 points per game. At the very least, Swanigan could be an upgrade over some of the other power forwards on the roster like Trey Lyles and Boris Diaw.
6 Orlando Magic – Jarrett Allen (PF, Texas)
While the Orlando Magic have a decent big man in Nikola Vucevic, there’s always need to find a future star who has shown a lot of potential. That’s what a lot of NBA scouts are seeing a lot of that word when they look at Texas forward Jarrett Allen. At six feet and 11 inches tall, he’s a big body that also has experience playing a center role. Allen averaged 13.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks.
Allen is someone who is still very young at 19 years of age who shows he can play both sides of the court. Unlike some of the other freshman being picked higher in the first round, Allen has some rough edges to work out. But he can provide depth as a power forward under Jeff Green. Or he could be flexed into a center at times.
5 Portland – Jonathan Jeanne (PF/C, International)
One of the players who shows a lot of raw potential that could shock some people as a first-round pick is Jonathan Jeanne. Part of it is because this French-born center has incredible size at seven feet and one inch with an impressive wingspan of seven and a half feet. This has allowed him to be one of the best shot blockers to play in the French League for Le Mans Sarthe Basket. But he also made a big name in international play.
Jeanne averaged 8.6 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.8 blocks while representing France in the 2015 FIBA U18 European Championship tournament. Portland will likely want a second center to play under Jusuf Nurkic with Festus Ezeli missing a second season in his career. On a side note, this would be the third pick in the first round for Portland, who could be a big winner in the NBA Draft.
4 Brooklyn Nets – Luke Kennard (SG, Duke)
The Brooklyn Nets benefit from having more than one pick in the first round. The team certainly needs help in a lot of ways after winning only 20 games last season. They could certainly benefit from also going for another shooting guard in Duke’s Luke Kennard. The sophomore Blue Devil had a big jump in his statistics from his freshman season; scoring 19.5 points per game while collecting an average of 5.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists.
Kennard made his biggest improvement shooting from three-point range – from 31.8 percent as a freshman to 43.8 percent as a sophomore. He could have more upside than Sean Kilpatrick, who struggled from three-point range by making just 34.1 percent. At the very least, Kennard can be the No. 2 shooting guard to provide depth for the Nets.
3 L.A. Lakers – Jawun Evans (PG, Oklahoma State)
The Los Angeles Lakers would like to see some improvements in both shooting and point guard positions on their roster. Jawun Evans is someone who could play either position for the Lakers with the success he had playing at Oklahoma State the last two seasons. As a sophomore this past collegiate season, Evans scored an average of 19.2 points per game while making 43.8 percent from the field. While he’s stronger inside the arc, he does have decent overall range.
Evans also did well distributing the ball with 6.4 assists per game. He was also effective on defense with 1.8 steals per game as well. With the likely selection of Lonzo Ball at No. 3, Evans could be moved to SG for more depth. The versatility would make him attractive for any NBA team, especially the rebuilding Lakers.
2 San Antonio Spurs – Alec Peters (PF, Valparaiso)
Alec Peters was someone who almost entered the NBA Draft last year after a junior season with 18.4 points and 8.5 rebounds per game to lead the Valparaiso Crusaders to the NIT Championship game in 2016. No one would have blamed Peters after a coaching change. But he returned for an impressive senior season with averages of 23 points and 10.1 rebounds; all while converting on 46.6 percent of his field goals.
Peters would provide depth behind power forward LaMarcus Aldridge for the San Antonio Spurs with a chance to move ahead of someone like David Lee and Davis Bertrans on the depth chart. Head coach Gregg Popovich also tends to be able to make stars out of players coming off of the bench and Peters could be another.
1 Utah Jazz – Semi Ojeleye (F, SMU)
The Utah Jazz would be smart to find a new forward to step onto the roster. While they have success this season as a whole, they can always improve their depth behind Gordon Hayward. Semi Ojeleye is someone who can play both power forward and small forward through his college basketball career. Originally a part of the Duke program, he struggled for minutes and points before moving to Southern Methodist.
It was last year at SMU when he averaged 18.9 points and 6.8 rebounds to be named the American Athletic Conference’s Player of the Year. He was an effective player with range as he made 48.8 percent overall and 42.4 behind the three-point arc. The Jazz would like the idea of someone who can play a couple of positions on the court as a flex player.