The NBA isn’t giving teams or fans a moment to collect themselves from the exhausting two month long playoffs. We have to look towards the NBA draft that is coming up on Thursday. The NBA draft is not like the NFL draft where star players often come out of the later rounds. If a player isn’t taken in the top 5, there is a strong chance that he will forever be a “role-player” or a bench warmer for whatever team that picks him. It makes sense, there aren’t a lot of spots in the NBA, as the teams rarely carry more than 14 players at one time. The best players play in the NBA, the second-tier players make their money overseas, and the third-tier players play in the D-League and compete to make a roster spot even if it’s only for one game.
That doesn’t mean that it never happens. Lebron and Kyrie Irving may have gone #1 overall, but Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, who have all had successful careers thus far, were taken 7th, 11th, and 35th respectively. There are stars hidden in the draft; teams just have to look closely to find them.
This year is one of the most top heavy drafts in recent memory, as the first and second picks are basically decided. Every pick after that is a mystery.
Here are 15 players we expect to be great once they get to the NBA.
29 Kris Dunn – PG Providence
Kris Dunn is one of the few players who was expected to come out of school as a lottery pick and chose to stay for a senior season. It was a decision that did not feel like the basketball culture that we are used to, but Dunn has the feel of a player from another time. He is a true point guard who has the ability to score, though often works as a ball distributor for his teammates. In an era of guards like Russell Westbrook and Steph Curry, who put scoring above passing, it’s refreshing to see a player who plays in the style of Jason Kidd. We think that Dunn would be a perfect fit for Kidd’s old team, the Nets, but they do not have a draft pick until the late second round, so there’s a very little chance they can end up with the Providence product. Instead we’ll say that he fits the team that Minnesota has put together. Dunn will be able to take the ball up the court and distribute to youngsters Ben Simmons and Karl-Anthony Towns to handle the scoring. Also he will make a fine replacement for Ricky Rubio who said he will leave Minnesota if they don’t make the playoffs this year. A bit of advice for Rubio; when you’re a B-level point guard who failed to live up to expectations, don’t make ultimatums.
27 Buddy Hield – SG Oklahoma
Hield will be a fine player in the NBA, but we do not expect him to be a superstar that teams may expect. Having Hield will not ever hurt a team, however he won’t be able to replicate his Wooden Award winning season. When you look at the players who win this award, rarely do they make a huge splash in the NBA, especially in recent years. Guys like Evan Turner, Jimmer Fredette, and Trey Burke, who remind us of Hield, were never able to translate what made them great in college into great NBA careers. However there’s recently been a change in the way NBA is played, and Hield will be able to make the leap well because he can shoot 3s. Last year he shot 3-pointers at a 46% rate, making an average of 4 a game. A shooting guard who can come off the bench and hit 3s is so important now as shown throughout the playoffs. Hield would fit very well on the Cavaliers where he would be able to play 20 minutes a game and be used as defensive stopper who can shoot the ball, taking a lot of the pressure off Kyrie Irving. The problem is that after the incredible run where Hield led his Oklahoma team to the Final Four, some team will unfortunately draft him in the top 5 where he will be under pressure to fix a team’s back court. He may work well for Minnesota or Boston, but Phoenix, New Orleans, and Denver should steer clear or they may be doomed to mediocrity for years.
25 Dragan Bender – PF Croatia
Teams like to repeat trends that work in the NBA Draft. After watching the magic that the Knicks found in Kristaps Porzingas, a team will more likely roll the dice on a guy like Dragan Bender. There are quite a few similarities between the two Eastern European giants, but Bender has shown himself as a better ball handler and Porzingas is a better shooter. Bender will be a standout player in the NBA and be a major building block for an NBA team. Bender has been playing Basketball at a professional level since he was 15 years old and has put up big games on a global stage. He is ready to make the leap to the NBA, Boston should be looking at him to go as high as third overall. The Celtics have a need to get a young big man to take the starting job from Amir Johnson or hold down the role if/when Jared Sullinger gets injured.
23 Domantas Sabonis – PF/C Gonzaga
Domantas Sabonis is one of the best passers in the draft, and he’s doing it from the Center position. The big man has great court vision and a very high basketball IQ, leading to a more complete game than the other centers in the draft. He is a great team leader and he showed it as he led the charge of Gonzaga’s surprising trip to the Sweet Sixteen this past season. He plays above average defense and is excellent in the post, so we like to compare him to Chris Bosh (when he played with Lebron). Sabonis probably does not have the ability to be the best offensive threat on the team game after game, but he can start, collect rebounds, and score for any team. He would be good for the Heat assuming that either Bosh or Hassan Whiteside aren’t holding down the frontcourt in 2017, but they don’t have a draft pick, so we think the best spot for him would be Chicago where he pairs well with Pau Gasol and will let the back court handle the bulk of the offense.
21 Malachi Richardson – SG Syracuse
Speaking of improbable runs in the tournament… Malachi Richardson played his way from a second round draft pick, to a possible lottery player. We don’t think Richardson will be drafted in the top 10, but teams will regret letting him pass them by. Richardson plays some of the best defense of anyone in the draft, and is probably the best defender amongst the guards. He can play both back-court positions and can even be a flex forward in some small-ball set-ups. His biggest weaknesses that critics point out are his lack of offensive consistency and his low field goal percentage. However, those are things that he can work on and in a few years time, build up to be great. He reminds us a lot of Jimmy Butler who came into the league as a defensive counterpart for Derrick Rose, but overtime became one of the better playmakers in the NBA. Coaches trust that Jim Boeheim will have taught Malachi well, so he has a shot to go as high as 5th overall, though the best spot for him would be in Atlanta at pick 21. The Hawks have one of the weakest 2-guards in the NBA as Kyle Korver had an atrocious season, and Malachi can be brought in to play defense and let Jeff Teague be an offensive playmaker.
19 Denzel Valentine – SF Michigan State
Denzel Valentine is a senior from Michigan State, who is praised for his leadership and intangibles more than for his on court performances, and is considered greatly undersized. On paper he sounds just like fellow Michigan State alumni Draymond Green. The two have very different play styles, but the mental toughness that Tom Izzo instills in his players. Denzel will have the same kind of impact on his team that Green has had for the Warriors. Valentine is a great defender and a very underrated scorer, but it will take a few years before he emerges as a star 9if he goes to the right team. Being a late second round or mid first round pick is great for Denzel as he will be able to sit back and learn from his teammates for a couple years before being bumped in the starting rotation. If he lands in Indiana, Valentine will learn an offensive game from Monta Ellis and Paul George and eventually take over Ellis’ role in a couple years. However the Pacers may be looking for a big man to help Paul George win a title before he chooses to go to another team.
17 Diamond Stone – C Maryland
Diamond Stone was a bit of a disappointment his freshman year. Stone looked lazy on the court (especially on defense), it was reported he didn’t hustle in practice, and he demands that he is the focus of every offensive play (even though he wasn’t a dynamic scorer). That attitude is immature and almost never translates to the NBA. However, the season may have been a wakeup call for the 19-year-old and for the first time in his career he will not be coddled. At 6’10” and 250 pounds, Stone will not be the biggest player on the court and won’t be able to pressure his opponents so easily. If he is determined to make it in the NBA, he will have to learn to play as a teammate and take defensive possessions seriously. If he does change his attitude, any team would be thrilled to have a guy like Stone, who is one of the (if not the) biggest players in the draft. A team like Dallas will be drooling over Stone, especially if he falls to them in the second round. They haven’t had a true big man since Tyson Chandler left, and Rick Carlisle has been able to handle guys with big personalities and refuse to play defense (see Monta Ellis). In Dallas, Stone would have the potential to be “the man” in only a couple years.
15 Perry Ellis – PF Kansas
It has felt like Perry Ellis has been playing in Kansas for a decade. He never really took a step up as a true college star, but put together 3 very good seasons and has gotten better every year. He isn’t an offensive playmaker, he isn’t a defensive monster, and he’s way too small to be an NBA power forward, but he is a guy who refuses to lose. He will play any role given to him, and be effective at it. He can rebound, he can score, he can play defense, he can distribute the ball, and he can even be the team mascot if that’s what they need. He will be a key piece of a good team, as long as he is put in a good situation. If the 76ers or the Lakers take him, he will never see the court, but a team like San Antonio will bring out the best in him. Gregg Popovich should be ready to pull the trigger on Ellis who is a do-all kind of guy that Pop usually targets. He’ll be able to back up Kawhi and be asked to come in at key moments to give them a second player to shut down the perimeter shooting that knocked the Spurs out of the playoffs this season.
13 Isaiah Whitehead – G Seton Hall
Whitehead is the most NBA ready combo guard in the draft. He is the kind of player who is big enough to play either position in the backcourt, and has the ability to both score or distribute the ball. Basically he’s got Damian Lillard’s skills in CJ McCollum’s body. So why is he expected to be a second rounder? Well he plays very selfish basketball on offense when he often only focuses on scoring and doesn’t expand his court vision to find open teammates, which leads to turnovers. NBA coaches will have to put Whitehead at the 2-guard which greatly diminishes his value. If he is unable to be the combo guard he want to be, he won’t make a great impact in the NBA. However, if he does take a step up and find a niche in a Jason Terry type role, he would be a great asset to his team. We expect him to be taken by a team like Milwaukee, who has a solid backcourt and can risk taking a chance on Whitehead as a project. If he goes to the Bucks, he will thrive under the tutelage of Jason Kidd and play behind Kris Middleton and Michael Carter-Williams. That means he may be able to play a lot of minutes early on and will be found on the All-NBA Rookie Team.
11 Brice Johnson – PF UNC
If Brice Johnson does not get taken in the top 10, we will be completely baffled. The 6’10” senior is probably the most coachable player in the draft, being one of the few players Roy Williams has been able to coach for 4 years. This class of players has a few seniors who will make a real impact early on, and we expect just that from Brice Johnson. He won’t start for any teams as he does have to bulk up a bit more; however, he has the ability to play 15 feet from the basket, shoot free throws, and move the ball around the court. His basketball intangibles off the charts and has shown that he can keep his composure when the game is on the line. These are things that you cannot teach a player, so a playoff contender should do anything in their power to land Johnson. The Grizzlies are a team that could really use a young point guard who can play behind Zach Randolph and play real minutes giving the 34 a capable backup.
9 Thon Maker – C Australia
He is a 7 footer who needs to put on weight, but if he does Thon will be one of the best rim protector in the NBA. That’s really all we expect from him as he is not going to be running up and down the court and is too slow to be a real offensive threat in the paint. He will be a huge body to pull down rebounds and prevent scoring in the way that Joakim Noah does for the Bulls. We think Thon makes a ton of sense for The Warriors who were exposed as having no size against both the Thunder and the Cavaliers. If Thon were to play for the Warriors, he would have made guys like Lebron and Steven Adams think twice before taking the ball into the paint. Teams will be willing to take a shot on Thon seeing the development of other Australian stars like Kyrie Irving, Matthew Dellavedova, Dante Exum, and Andrew Wiggins in the NBA.
7 Skal Labissiere – C Kentucky
After the success of Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, and Willie Cauley-Stein it will be hard for an NBA team to not draft Skal Labissiere, the latest big man from Kentucky. Statistically Labissiere didn’t have a great season, and he didn’t play important minutes in many important games. However, he is still a 20-year-old 7-footer who has the ability to develop into a strong asset both on defense and offense. He is praised for his willingness to accept whatever role he needs to take and being a high character kid. If he had put up better numbers in his year at Kentucky, he would have been considered a top 3 pick. If he can play with a coach that gives him time to develop, and teach him how to work on his fouling (averaged 3 fouls in 15 minutes per game), Skal can play like Al Horford, a real monster in the paint. The best place for him to play would be a team like the Pelicans who really need a player to replace Omer Asik in the next couple years.
5 Dejounte Murray – PG Washington
The Huskies have two players who are expected to be lottery picks, which is strange considering that they went 19-15 and missed making it to the NCAA tournament. The Pac 12 was a weak conference, yet the pair of Marquese Chriss and Dejonte Murray couldn’t carry the team into March. That screams “selfish players” to us. A point guard who plays selfish ball often can translate to the NBA more so than a Power Forward, so we put Murray on the list over Chriss who is expected to be the higher pick. Murray hustles on defense, is one of the best rebounding guards in the draft, and seems more mature than his teammate. The reason that Murray slips in the draft is his size, he is extremely skinny at 6’5” 170 pounds. Murray’s game is greatly reminiscent of Jrue Holliday, who put on a ton of muscle when he got to the NBA and is now a consistent performer for his team. The Knicks would be the best spot for Murray where he could have a chance to start immediately, but unfortunately they gave away their first round pick meaning a team like Chicago or Sacramento will probably snatch Murray up and let him learn behind more established players.
3 Ben Simmons – F LSU
Ben Simmon has the highest ceiling of any player who will be taken in the 2016 NBA Draft. He has one of the best all-around games and is built like a power forward with the ball handling and court vision of a point guard. One of the few other guys in the history of the league with that kind of ability is LeBron James. Obviously Simmons is not near Lebron’s level yet, but the comparisons can be made. The biggest flaw in Simmons’ game is his total lack of a jumpshot, which has become so important in the NBA today. The lack of a shot really hurt Simmons in college as the SEC learned early that if they just stacked the paint and did not allow him to attack the basket, the team would be totally unable to score. This problem will be hidden if he goes to a team like the Lakers, where there are a number of players he would be able to kick the ball out to and hit a 3, but on the 76ers, where the team is loaded with front court talent, he may be exposed. Most people see the LSU product going first overall to the 76ers, so his development may be a little slow because front office has spent the past few years turning their team into the NBA’s trash heap. If Simmons can work on his shot over the offseason and his team puts better shooters around him, we expect Simmons to have an immediate impact and win Rookie of the Year.
1 Brandon Ingram – SF Duke
If Ben Simmons is LeBron James, then Brandon Ingram is Kevin Durant. The two have been linked every possible chance, and for good reason. Both of the men are listed at 6’9”, they’re both one-and-done players, both have an over 7-foot wingspan, and they even share similar critiques. Out of college Durant “needed to” bulk up, his defense was lacking, and he needed to be more vocal; which are all knocks on Ingram. Ingram is going either first or second in the upcoming draft and will thrive better in Philadelphia than he would in Los Angeles. In Philadelphia, Ingram will be able to hold the ball, dish it inside to bigger playmakers and wait for them to kick it back out to him. Ingram won’t be making the same immediate impact that we expect to see from Simmons, purely because Simmons won’t be as punished by bigger players guarding him. The 76ers are in a tight spot on Tuesday when they have to decide if they would prefer a copy of Lebron James or a copy of Kevin Durant. Tough pick…