March Madness, the draft lottery and NBA finals are over and that means the HEATED mock draft season. And it is time for Beyond the Arc to provide you with their comprehensive guide. This mock will preview the top 10 picks while taking into account fit and organisational direction. Some teams value best available asset while others target according to fit on their big boards. This draft has been touted as the best draft in a while, containing generational talents that require our attention. Let’s dive into it.
Pick 1: Philadelphia 76ers
Markelle Fultz (Freshman) – Washington
Trust the Process! Sam Hinkie’s master plan lives on (despite not being an executive anymore). The 76ers have a chance to draft another blue chip prospect to go with the likes of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Dario Saric. Bryan Colangelo was not content with sitting at third so he swung a deal (with the Celtics) landing the First Overall Pick.
Meet Markelle Fultz.
Fultz is outright the best available talent on the board, and not only that, he would fit in perfectly with this team. Listed at 6’4″ 195lbs, he can slot in with the Sixers like a glove. Picture their starting lineup of Fultz, Robert Covington, Simmons, Saric and Embiid. Tall. Mean. Versatile. This unit has the basis of a top 5 NBA defence and could be a matchup nightmare offensively. Welcome to the new NBA!
Simmons’ skill set is optimised to be the dominant ball-handler. He needs the ball to create, run the offence and push the team in transition. Fultz is the perfect puzzle piece in the sense that he can share the duties and fit in at other spots. Simmons may create that (minor) conundrum, but drafting arguably the most talented player in this class isn’t all that bad!
He has the amazing ability to create his own shot, which starts from his control. A lot of 18 year olds seem reckless and immature on the floor, but not this guy. He’s got the calm head combined with his multi-facted toolbox. Can he shoot? Tick. Create off the dribble? Tick. Work an on-ball? Tick. Drive both directions? Tick. NBA size? Tick.
Fultz is not only able to create for himself, but set up others on a dime. He’s got a fantastic ability to find his teammates and always has a good feel for where they are on the floor.
I could go on but we would be here all day. Let’s keep this one short and sweet.
These factors shouldn’t have executives too concerned, but they are still holes nonetheless. Something you can find when watching Fultz play is that he seems to have a ‘casual approach’ to the game. This translates on both sides of the floor where he could get a bit ‘cute’ rather than being direct with his finishing and possession management. This also translates to being ‘lazy’ defensively (although he does have the tools). Tendencies that including losing track of his man while ball-watching, not in his stance, poor fundamentals on closeouts, and just a general lack of effort.
He was part of a poor (9-22) Washington team (which resulted in the firing of Lorenzo Romar and the eventual de-commitment of number 1 HS recruit Michael Porter Jr) and struggled against tougher competition. This may be a product of opposing teams narrowing down on him while disregarding his marginal supporting cast. The Huskies missed the tournament so Fultz sat at home with his draft stock, while other guys got to boost (or lower) theirs. Despite this, Fultz was able to maintain his valuation in the top 2 all season long. Same can be said for the next draftee (except for some added drama).
The 76ers will be pleased with their decision to move up and landing the consensus top player in the draft (who’s also a point guard). Fultz being added to the young promising core that’s already in place is something Philly fans should be excited about.
But can they finally stay healthy? Can they finally put it all together?
Pick 2: Los Angeles Lakers
Lonzo Ball (Freshman) – UCLA
New president of basketball operations Magic Johnson will admit (with his million dollar smile) that this is the perfect fit. The kid from Chino Hills and UCLA gets to stay home in LA and remain in the limelight. Much has been made about Lonzo and his family by the media and rightly so. They have caused a ruckus throughout the college season and many eyes are on Lonzo Ball as he enters the NBA.
There is no question about one thing – Lonzo CAN Ball. He’s an extremely talented prospect with a high upside and proved during the season that he was a one-and-done player. He was able to effortlessly take over games, make big shots and come up with the goods time and time again. Unfortunately he was severely outplayed by De’Aaron Fox in the sweet 16 and that’s another cloud that lingers over his head.
You may be wondering why the Lakers might draft another PG/ball-handler when they took D’Angelo Russell two years ago. Ball is unquestionably the best player available if Fultz goes number 1. Lakers will want to stock their shelves with the talent in order to climb out of the lottery. Ball is 6’6″ while Russell is 6’5″. These two are able to co-exist in the sense that Russell has shown he is able to play off the ball. The versatility of having two guards who can spot-up is a luxury that most teams don’t have. That being said, if the Lakers go the other way and deal Russell elsewhere, that would make sense too.
Jason Kidd. That is who Ball reminds me of. He has the innate feel for the game that can’t be measured. He’s an elite transition player who can make the game-changing pass even before the defence can say “Ball”. The ability to make the quick decisions is second to none. Lonzo is a creative guard who transformed one of the most mediocre offences in college basketball into one of the best in the nation. In terms of being a floor general, there might not be a better one in the draft. You get the whole package in this guard (including that quirky shooting stroke – 41.2% on triples), but the areas of concern mainly come from off the court.
Where do we even begin. His father? The fact that he declared for the draft STRAIGHT AFTER his sweet 16 loss where he rolled over? You can say all you want about Ball’s upside and talent, but at the end of the day, does he have the drive and personality to have what it takes? The first negative you notice about Ball is his casual attitude. Never quite in his defensive stance, stands around and ball watches while preparing for the rebound to push in transition. In this aspect, he reminds of an ex-UCLA guard. He isn’t the physical defensive player despite his frame would suggest nor is he the shot creator either.
His ability to manufacture his own shot isn’t at the level he would like. His stroke is at its most effective when it’s a balanced look. Off the dribble? Not so much. The release doesn’t allow him to get off his shots as quickly as required, and combined with the lack of consistency to get inside, these are some tools that need refining when going against the elite athletes of the NBA.
This would make it seem like the puzzle pieces are clicking into place for Lonzo Ball. He and his family invite the pressure of being drafted to the Lakers, and as the days go by, it is becoming more and more likely. Social media can talk all they like about how much drama the Ball family has brought to the NBA scene, but there’s one thing you cannot doubt.
Lonzo Ball is a franchise-player talent.
Pick 3: Boston Celtics
Josh Jackson (Freshman) – Kansas
The Celtics struck gold when they fleeced the Nets in their trade back in 2013, and then they flipped their 2017 pick (swap) for even more picks (including this one)! They have the luxury of easing whoever they select in – as their timeline is on the arc of contention. In this case, Josh Jackson. The explosive Jayhawk would not be asked to carry the franchise load immediately, but he does walk into a talented roster that includes Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Al Horford and Jae Crowder.
General Manager Danny Ainge has a history of taking best available asset/talent (re: Jaylen Brown) and figuring it out. Jackson is more than likely going to carve out a spot as a Celtics pillar, or does the Sixers trade create traction for an inevitable blockbuster move?
Athletic. Long. 6’8″. Potential. Frame.
Just some of the terms that linger around the Josh Jackson’s name. He kind of reminds you of a Kawhi Leonard/Michael Kidd-Gilchrist blend. An absolute bulldog on the court and works his tail off. Competes on both ends of the floor and has shown flashes of that polished offensive game you could see down the road. Whether it’s his jump-shot, slashing game, or the ability to create off the catch. The Big-12 Freshman of the Year is able to guard 1-4 at the pro level, an excellent offensive rebounder and cutter while he has shown the knack to be able to throw his body around inside. Not only that, but he is able to create for others. He has the unselfish characteristic that is instilled into players at a young age. Jackson finished the year with an EFG% of 55% on 30.8mpg and averaged 16-7-3.
“Potential can’t buy you a cup of coffee”.
Those who look at Josh Jackson will drool over his upside, and that might be his knock. Jackson has yet to show the polish in his game that translates to the NBA game as a raw prospect. He needs nurturing in order to become the animal that he could become. His ability to create his own shot needs improvement. He made only 28% of his FGAs on isolations/PnRs and hasn’t shown the consistent ability to knock it down off-the-dribble. And teams drafting a wing this early envisions them to be able to carry the shot-creation burden – which at this stage Jackson struggles with. The last flaw to his game is his shooting. He hit 37.8% on triples (on a low volume) but with a streaky shot. He has a ‘herky-jerky flinging’ motion which causes legitimate concerns. There are some scouts that are convinced that his shot will never take the necessary step. And if it doesn’t, it could really deflate his ceiling.
The explosive athleticism, competitiveness on every possession, and how he wears his heart on his sleeve are traits that any organisation will love. His unselfishness on the court in contributing to wins makes him a great teammate and will earn the respect of NBA veterans from day one. However, there is one last thing to note. His maturity.
He has shown that he lets his emotions get the better of him. Evidence of this has been with his technical fouls, his poor body language when things don’t go his way, and his reported off the court incidents. All of these might be a thing of the past, but regardless it’s something to keep tabs on.
Unless you’re Danny Ainge, there is a lot of uncertainty regarding what the Celtics ultimately do in this spot. Do they trade the pick? Do they use it? Do they use it and subsequently deal it? There are endless scenarios in which Boston could be involved and luckily for us, we get to enjoy the show.
Pick 4: Phoenix Suns
Jayson Tatum (Freshman) – Duke
A Duke prospect. Yuck!
Anyone that knows me knows that I despise any Dukey being a UK fan, but I will be the first to admit I LOVE Jayson Tatum’s game. The former number 2 ranked HS recruit out of Missouri MIGHT be my favourite player in this draft. If I had a big board, he MIGHT be number one.
Yes, Duke products since 2010 have struggled translating in Coach K’s adaptation of the one-and-done era. But Tatum knows how to score. And efficiently. TS% of 57% while shooting 50.4% on two point attempts. This is exactly what the Phoenix Suns need.
A wing scorer who can step in and contribute right away – Phoenix had the 22nd ranked offence with an offensive rating of 103.9.
The Suns could look at addressing the PG, but they do still have Eric Bledsoe who is effective when healthy. Add Tatum with Devin Booker, and suddenly you have a nice trio with the glut of big men they’ve drafted.
Gets buckets. There is no one else in this class that can score like Tatum. He can do it in every way and effectively. He averaged 16.8ppg and it starts with his isolation game. He was always too quick, skilled or big for his opponents. Tatum boasts the polished offensive game that is far superior than what you would expect from a 19 year old. His bag of tricks to create separation include his ability to pull-up, effective jab-steps, crossovers, turnarounds and swift drives.
The operation in the PnR is another one of his specialities that is a staple of the NBA offence. If he attains a switch, he can take advantage of both scenarios.
Taller player? His mid-post footwork is very smooth and crafty. Able to shift gears and explode past the big.
How about a smaller player? His fantastic footwork and size gets him good position on the block – setting up a variety of moves.
He has the poise of an NBA scorer at such a young age which leads you to believe his ceiling could be something special. He only shot 34.2% from beyond the arc, but his lovely stroke paints a brighter picture.
What if it all doesn’t translate? What if he can’t score at the next level? Those are some of his concerns when he arrives in the NBA. He has shown the craftiness in order to manuevre to his spots in the college game, but the lack of elite athleticism may hurt his NBA game. Ability to dominate the HS and college game is an effective body of work, but whether he can do it against NBA veterans is a different story. If not, it may smell trouble.
Tatum lacks the ability to create for others and that begins with his loose handle. He was able to rely on his polish, size and shot creation at Duke – which made him the scoring machine that he was. But at the next level, you have to display a multi-faceted arsenal. He often had the ball-stopping mentality to create for himself due to his score-first mindset. The flashes of playmaking and vision have appeared occasionally, but not enough for an executive to praise.
Although he has displayed glimpses of his defensive tools, there are still vital flaws in that respect. He has the size and length to be able to guard multiple positions but his defensive fundamentals let him down. Inability to perform controlled closeouts and defending with an upright stance are some examples.
As an overall product, Tatum might be the most polished product. Unfortunately for him, the draft is selected on the basis of needs, (perception of) talent, upside and the list goes on. He is arguably my favourite prospect in this draft based on his ability to score and how it SHOULD project in the league. Some view him as Paul Pierce/Danny Granger kind of player while others see him as a less athletic Rudy Gay. Only time will tell.
Pick 5: Sacramento Kings
De’Aaron Fox (Freshman) – Kentucky
The first (of many) Kentucky Wildcats to come off the board! I will try to remain unbiased in my breakdown of Mr Fox’s game but it will be tough.
The speedy UK freshman lead the Cats to a 32-6 record and an elite 8 appearance. The Sacramento Kings are in the process of a cultural movement when they dealt DeMarcus Cousins. Fox is the kind of leader who could come in and cultivate a winning mentality from the get-go.
Insert Fox with the nucleus of Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere and Buddy Hield under head coach Dave Joerger and suddenly the Kings are turning it around. No longer is there a cloud of appeasing to Cousins’ requirements and (hopefully) they can operate how they would like.
Unrivalled leadership as the floor general. There’s a reason why Kentucky head coach John Calipari nicknamed him ‘The General’. When it came to recruiting Fox, Calipari claimed it was easier once Fox had committed because other guys just wanted to play with him. Isn’t that just an amazing compliment?
How about the fact that you KNEW he cared and worked his tail off? There was the footage after their elite 8 loss that was a prime example of this. He didn’t just declare straight after the game, but you could tell he was legitimately hurt with his brothers.
Fox has the uncanny ability to defend (despite his slender frame). He has tremendous lateral quickness, can move his feet around PnRs and fits the bill in terms of an overall defender. Works hard, high IQ and has the tools at 6’4″. He has a lightning quick first-step and can get to the hole at will. This will translate to the NBA game as his speed has been compared to past UK guards such as John Wall and Rajon Rondo. He gets everyone involved with his vision and knows when to make the right pass. This may be in transition, drive-and-kicks, PnRs, you name it. He can find you.
Even for a PG, Fox has an elite level handling ability and will make the right play. Doesn’t try to force the issue and create something that’s not there. In terms of creating for himself, he has a nice inside game that starts with his finishing ability. His speed leaves defenders in the dust while he’s also able to alternate with the floater. He’s able to keep defenders on their toes with his pull-up game and has range within 18 feet. He averaged 17-5 assists in 29.6 minutes per game, while shooting 52.6% from 2 point land.
(Yes I know I went a bit longer with his strengths compared to other prospects, but understand Fox is my guy!)
The first flaw that comes to mind is his shooting. It was mentioned in his strengths that he was able to shoot within 18 feet – but as an NBA point guard, it has to be to extended to 24 feet. Show defenders that they need to respect your range which will open up driving lanes. He made 24.6% of his triples (on low volume) due to his pragmatic style of play. He knew he wasn’t a great shooter so he settled with playing inside 18 feet. That needs improvement when he enters the league as NBA scouting reports and overall talent pool won’t allow that flaw to go unnoticed.
The other weakness is his overall frame. How will it affect his game if he can’t continue to add muscle? Will he then be injury prone? This is something that goes into his projection because if he isn’t able to, he may not be able to absorb contact at the rim like he’s used to. Then there’s dealing with NBA caliber guards. The Russell Westbrook’s, James Harden’s and John Wall’s of the world. These guys are physical players and the question still remains if he can deal with the leagues physicality night in, night out.
The Kings (who jumped 5 spots only to drop 2 due to the Sixers pick swap) will be happy to land a franchise point guard in De’Aaron Fox. He will be able to develop under coach Joerger and have former UK big men to run the PnR/floor with. If you want someone to carry out your new direction, Fox is your guy.
Pick 6: Orlando Magic
Malik Monk (Freshman) – Kentucky
Kentucky Wildcat #2 is off the board! Malik Monk took the college game by storm with his 47 point onslaught on North Carolina. Note that the college game is quite bogged down and played in 40 minutes. He is the explosive scorer that steps into the Magic roster that deeply needs a spark. They have made some front office changes with the hiring of John Hammond as their General Manager which will cause a trickle-down effect, but in the short term, a guy like Monk will fill seats and entertain crowds.
Orlando have had issues with roster construction under ex-GM Rob Hennigan and that includes a log jam at the guard position. Terrence Ross, Mario Hezonja, Evan Fournier and Elfrid Payton are some that feature in this pile that will require a reconfiguration. This should not stop them from taking the best available option.
Having versatile wings has suddenly become a premium in today’s league and the bonus of getting a highlight reel type scorer is something Orlando need. They will be able to build around the nucleus of Payton, Monk, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic and then you might have some direction.
19.8ppg on 50-40-82 splits. In other words, efficient scoring in 32.1 minutes per game. Monk has the uncanny ability to fill the basket in various ways and has the explosive athleticism as a handcuff. He registered a 42 inch vertical leap at Kentucky’s preseason combine which reinforced Calipari’s comments about Monk having (prime) Derrick Rose like athleticism.
The shooting ability is what stands out the most. He could get hot, and get hot in an instance. 75% of his looks were in quick-action openings such as spot-ups, transition or off screens. The high elevation jump-shot was largely effective where he played off-ball for most of games. The ball would be Fox’s hands and Monk would relocate off the ball intelligently. Most of his looks in the half-court were in fact away from the rim, and although this may be considered a limiting factor, this reminds me of Devin Booker at UK.
Calipari’s Kentucky teams are usually too deep for every player to showcase their full arsenal during their one season, but looking at the glimpses, you can tell there’s promise in certain areas. Half of Monk’s attempts in the half-court were off the dribble where he displayed no shortage of confidence. He was able to make tough contested looks while also sinking the shots off separation. Using fakes, rip-throughs and explosiveness, this happened with regularity.
The aforementioned glimpses mentioned above require consistent sparkling for the next step for Monk. Only 10% of his possessions came in the pick-and-roll and isolation – which are two strong components of the NBA offensive game. There is room to grow as a creator/scorer with Fox and Isaiah Briscoe handling most of the generation duties. It can also be mentioned that he has honed in on using PnRs since the college season ended. Monk will need that since he only made 49% in the paint in the half-court. His struggles to absorb and finish through contact was an issue unless it was in transition.
Monk’s disappearing act during some games was due to his lack of shot-creation ability. He was not relied on as a handler or a playmaker and therefore when teams were able to take away his off-ball looks, Monk was nowhere to be seen. Learning to manipulate NBA defences will be his next step. Improving his ball-handling, vision to create for others and craftiness to generate for himself.
Defensively, it is no serious area of concern. He has solid lateral quickness to react to screens. Using his hyper-athleticism effectively is another thing. He would be able to jump out and recover but often let slower opponents get to their spots. Wasn’t as disruptive as he needed to be and would often jump too far over screens. He will need to bulk up to deal with NBA size and strength too.
Stay locked in, and stay disciplined. That’s the formula for Mr Monk.
Monk would fit in perfectly as a Magic from day one. He has a Fox-lite handler in Payton to find him, while not be the primary scorer immediately with Vucevic and Fournier around. Eventually Orlando will hope his ability will grow the necessary increments, but for now, blue-chip talent and viewership is at the franchise’s forefront.
Pick 7: Minnesota Timberwolves
Jonathan Isaac (Freshman) – Florida State
With the #7 pick, the Wolves are likely looking for the best available prospect. And Isaac fits the bill in terms of need as well. The Seminole offers versatility, length and defence in the league that has headed in this direction. Listed at 6’11” 205lbs, he can guard multiple positions and be shuffled up and down the lineup. With Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, they have a quality nucleus going forward. These two are likely becoming the #1 and #2 options and they require some glue. Put a guy like Isaac at the 4 next to Towns and Wiggins, with Ricky Rubio and a shooter (Zach LaVine/whoever), suddenly you have a spaced offence.
Head Coach Tom Thibodeau is known for liking defensive-minded players hence his past favouring of players such as Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson. Isaac fits the mould. Hard worker, defensive versatility, and he can come in and be an immediate glue guy. Isaac isn’t a guy like Lauri Markkanen who will need shots to be involved. Isaac can offer many off-ball assets that make him desirable with this selection.
Isaac is your typical underdeveloped lanky freshman who came in and worked his tail off. Raw, athletic and motor are words that are often associated with him. And he showed he had the intangibles which could translate into future development. He has a great frame to add bulk, and very fluid for his size. Can run, jump and catch. The aspects some NBA bigs STILL struggle with. Combine this with his aggression at the rim and on the glass, it demonstrates his heart on the court. He hauled in 8.9 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes and showed the consistent effort level to maintain this productivity. From this asset, he showed flashes of being able to push the ball in transition himself.
This brings us to his offensive game. Most of his plays came in transition, off offensive rebounds, cuts and spot-ups. He showed some consistency with his range (34.8% 3FG, 78% FT), and his jump-shot has been better since he arrived in Tallahassee. The ball comes out of his wrist nicely, with an identifiable release point. A lot of young guys just throw the ball at the rim, but his shot has a smooth motion and a proper rotation. This translated to his use of the ball off-the-dribble. He used the pull-up game on closeouts and performed it with relative control and balance. Attacking closeouts off spot-up looks has grown to be an NBA premium in the last few years.
His greatest asset is his defence. This will translate to the NBA. Defensive performance is difficult to teach young kids. Either it’s innate or it’s not. This isn’t to say kids that don’t ‘have it’ can’t improve, but Isaac has the potential to be special on this end. For a player that’s 6’11”, his versatility is unlike any other in this draft (besides maybe Jackson). He has the size and reach to play the 4/5, but also possesses the lateral quickness to switch onto guards. He was able to navigate screens, maintain his position and recover with his freakish wingspan. Isaac was able to closeout on shooters, get in his stance and wall off drivers. Now and then he was prone to making mental errors, but with the right tutelage, there’s a defensive animal to be unleashed.
Isaac’s weaknesses remind me a bit of Jackson’s as well. Both raw athletes who are in the perfect mould of today’s game, but whether they fill out their potential is the question. First it starts with his weight. He’ll need to be able to put on some muscle in order to survive the NBA’s physicality. However, a lot of one-and-done prospects come into the league under-developed physically. The big hindrance on his game is his ability to become a more polished offensive weapon. Will he ever be a number one scoring option? A number two even? It’ll have to start with his handling, off-the-dribble release and withstanding contact inside.
The next requirement would be his mentality. Isaac would often pass up open looks and delegates to a teammate instead of taking the situation on. Besides his high motor hustling and on the glass, you’d find him disappear on some offensive possessions. And that’s quite difficult when you remind yourself he’s 6’11”! The development on the offensive side of the ball is crucial for any pros shelf life. Offence sells. And offence gets you paid.
You could turn out to be an elite defender like Andre Roberson, but what if you fall half a step short? What if you become 2017 Corey Brewer (being VERY generous)? A solid defensive player, works hard, but an average offensive player at best? The difference between an elite defender and a solid defender could mean being a core starter or a fringe rotation player – or even out of the league.
Isaac will likely be picked in the top 8 regardless of the team. The kind of 3-and-D potential at 6’11” is something most GMs will simply get excited for.
And in this case, Tom Thibodeau.
Pick 8: New York Knicks
Dennis Smith Jr (Freshman) – North Carolina State
When you think of the 2017 draft, you think of the wealth of PGs it boasts. Fultz, Ball and Fox come to mind. The next tier involves Dennis Smith Jr. The kid from North Carolina controversially committed to NC State over prestigious programs such as Kentucky, Duke,
Louisville and North Carolina. Part of his stock drop comes from the ACL tear he suffered during his senior year in high school. He was ranked as the top PG HS prospect, but since dropped following the injury.
Smith will step into the New York Knicks who have had their fair share of controversy. Derrick Rose will likely be headed for the exit, and a new direction with Kristaps Porzingis is required. Taking the best available prospect/PG would be the right choice.
We are about 18 months removed from his ACL injury, and Smith produced a mixed 2016-17 campaign. His highs were VERY high though. He was awarded the ACC Rookie of the Year on 18-5-6 on 51-36-72 splits whilst playing 34.8mpg. Smith produced in volume, playing hefty minutes with fair efficiency (57% TS). His strong frame (6’3″ 195lbs) and explosiveness translated to the ACC which gave him the opportunity to impress scouts once again.
It all starts on the offensive end for Smith. He was able to cause nightmares for Duke (32 points) by being a fearless slasher – especially in transition. He has a quick first-step where he’s able to draw contact and get to the line or finish. He surprised many with his above-the-rim play, and combine that with his polished handle and footwork, he caused havoc (despite being on a 15-17 team).
Smith also demonstrated his poise on the floor. He was able to read the situation where he shifted gears relative to the scenario. Change directions, shift speeds, while maintaining control are crucial characteristics for any elite guard. Although the team situation wasn’t ideal (non-shooters, two big lineups, marginal talent), he still managed to create separation for himself and find the open teammate (6 apg). The last aspect that he excelled at was the operation of the pick-and-roll. Being able to find the open cutter/shooter, work the ball screen to shake his man, or using it to get an open jumper. As a PG, being able to work the PnR and a consistent shot are mandatory in the NBA – although Smith needs work on the latter.
Smith Jr may have taken games over with a BANG during the college season, but he also proved inconsistent. He would display questionable decision-making, offer little vocal leadership, and could shrink in the spotlight. A prime example is when he dropped 32 points on Duke, then laid an egg with an 8 point performance in the following game against Louisville. He doesn’t offer the traditional PG trait of being a floor general as he gets stuck on the fence between a scorer and a playmaker.
He might have the excuse of playing with lesser teammates (and coaching), but that’s the position he put himself in. The offence didn’t quite look as functional as it could’ve been, and he was subjected to playing heavy isolation at times dribbling the ball to a pulp. This may have lead to his streaky shooting. When it was on, he would light teams up. But when it was off, it could get really ugly. And the expected value of his shots were very poor. Step-back long twos, 25 footers, etc. This will need an adjustment considering how much he relies on this aspect of his game.
In terms of his defensive production, Smith certainly has the tools to be a good NBA defender. He’s got the size and nifty feet in order to keep up around picks. But his focus requires improvement. At some points he would put it all together and show glimpses of being an excellent two-way player. Other times? Less so. Consistency carries over to Smith’s defence as well. Ball-watching, upright stance, and not being proactive enough has been his downfall.
With all that being said, Dennis Smith Jr still remains an intriguing prospect in this years draft. The Knicks could end up taking him and end up moulding Smith into their franchise PG. Does he have the potential? Definitely. Is his torn ACL a concern? Definitely. But when push comes to shove, you can’t deny the talent and need are there for the Knicks.
Pick 9: Dallas Mavericks
Frank Ntilikina (International) – France
(Note: pronounced nee-lee-KEE-nah)
Finally! A non-college-freshman is taken! Oh wait, Frank is still 18…
The 2nd tier of PGs involves Frank
Ntiilikjbhdandkina Ntilikina and the relative unknown cloud that lingers over his head. But who doesn’t like some international mystery! Mark Cuban and his Mavericks had an underwhelming season where they finished in the lottery – opposed to their playoff expectations.
Dallas gets to retool for a playoff run next season with the Frenchman who can step in and run the show for a team that needs a general. He is young, raw and requires time, but who else better to mentor him than one of the greatest European players of all-time (Dirk Nowitzki). Combine Franky with Nerlens Noel, Dirk, Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews and suddenly you have an interesting starting lineup. Young but with some veteran seasoning. Every team in the league requires a general who controls the tempo of a game, and although Euro prospects always come with some red flags naturally, who better to take them on than Mark Cuban.
Ntilikina played in the First Division of the French league for SIG Strasbourg and came off the bench logging 19 minutes per game. Averaging 5-2-2 on 48-40-60, he struggled to make a major impact. You should note that young guys in Europe often don’t carry major workloads in Euroleagues, and Frank was no exception. However, he really showed glimpses of his NBA potential during the 2016 U18 European Championships.
The tournament concluded with him averaging 15-3-5 including a 31-4-3 outburst in France’s win over Lithuania in the Final. This included an outrageous 50-59-92 split over 6 games! This became a strong reminder that Frank had never left the scene and regained the attention of NBA scouts. The lanky youngster showed his chops defensively at 6’5″ 170lbs. You’ll find this is where you are most impressed with his demeanour towards the game. He’s got an incredible IQ (knowledge and implementation) where you will see him read a play 2 steps ahead of his opponent. His lateral quickness, timing and length are core assets of his defensive game. Jumping over PnRs, denying penetration and bombarding his opponents on the perimeter. At the age of 18, this is very impressive.
On the offensive end, he’s a very smooth player for his age. He’s able to move around the court freely, get to his spots and get others involved. His feel for the game is advanced for his age similar to how the league viewed Rubio at 18. The ability to read the open floor, off the PnR and in the half-court is why the word ‘poise’ gets associated with Ntilikina. He’s significantly improved over the past few years as a shooter as well. Whether it’s off the bounce, in transition or as a set-shot. This was displayed during the U18 championships where he shot a high volume and made them with confidence. The splits speak for itself.
Being 18 on the other hand has it’s downfalls. There are still a lot of holes in his game that required filling. A lot of questions that need to be answered. A lot of boxes to be ticked (alright, I’ll stop now. I couldn’t help myself). He doesn’t quite possess the explosiveness that you’d imagine a 6’5″ guard to have. He’s more swift, slippery and smooth. This hurts his inside finishing especially with his slender frame. Also take into account that he’s very right-hand dominant.
Ntilikina isn’t the most dominant player or personality either. He doesn’t show you the elite isolation or creation prowess and seems to defer to his teammates. Is that a product of playing with veteran teammates? Possibly. But it’s certainly something to keep an eye on. He’s got the tendency to be a product of the system rather than being the main guy. He will be overly unselfish or too passive. Instead of trying to take the moment on, he might settle for a soft drive-and-kick and happily shy away. This leads us into his possession management concerns. Franky has been known to be subjected to defensive pressure. Making basic mental and skill (passing, handling, etc) errors resulting in high turnover rates (4.8 TOs per 40 at U18s).
Frank Ntilikina has been a name murmured around the 2017 draft for the past 12 months and looks bound for a lottery selection.
The questions still remain: Who’s willing to take the plunge? Who’s gambling on his potential? And doesn’t Mark Cuban fit that bill?
Pick 10: Sacramento Kings
Lauri Markkanen (Freshman) – Arizona
The Finnish Wildcat made a splash this college season for Arizona where he helped them to the Sweet 16 where the got bounced by Xavier. Markkanen provides a unique skill-set that the other selections don’t have – combination of size and shooting. Listed at 7’0″ 220lbs, the big man offers efficient scoring at his size. He produced 16-7 on 55-42-84 with a 64% TS! If that’s not efficient, what is.
He will be bringing his talents to the Capital of California and meshing with guys like Cauley-Stein, Labissiere, Hield and possibly De’Aaron Fox. Suddenly you have a 5 man core that looks promising in the Post-Boogie era. A lot of these players are young and still have room to grow, but Lauri has an NBA ready game. He can step in and contribute right away next to a rim protector like WCS. Put that front court with Hield, Fox, a veteran wing and then you have a direction.
Markkanen made the All-Pac 12 First Team for the potent scoring he showed all season. He has an advanced toolbox for a player his age and size, and it starts with his fluidity on offence. He can move well for a big guy and fill it up. His versatile arsenal of jump-shooting makes him a very interesting prospect – one like no other in this draft. The ability to spot-up, pick-and-pop, face-up, but also his ability to attack closeouts. He may not be the most athletic player in the sense of the vertical or speed, but he’s nifty with his movements.
Mentioned with his ability to attack closeouts, he’s got a nice off-the-dribble game for a 7 footer. He’s able to attack the defence as a slasher (when necessary) and keep the defence honest. Markkanen shot 42% from BEYOND THE ARC (shameless plug) on 5.9 attempts a game. That is some crazy efficiency for a guy that big. A major reason of his shooting prowess doesn’t come from luck. It’s the beautiful stroke. Fantastic balance, a soft touch and a smooth motion. Lovely to watch poetry in motion.
This allows him to come off screens and shoot off the bounce. He might not have the quickest release, but his height ensures he’s able to set his feet and take high percentage looks. Another way he attained his looks were crashing the glass. He may never be the greatest athlete on the court, but he’s positionally knowledgable on where he needs to be. He’s able to get into the spots where he can get his team an extra possession.
How you should look at his weaknesses are how we viewed Dirk’s weaknesses. Not to say he will ever be as good as Dirk, but the comparisons are relative. Markkanen doesn’t have the length or physicality to ever be an inside force. He will likely never be the consistent isolation scorer Dirk will ever be either. These weaknesses are from the fact that his frame and size doesn’t allow him to extend his game there (yet). The athleticism deficiencies lead into his mixed reviews defensively.
Markkanen is a fundamentally sound player. Solid agility and footwork on closeouts and PnR stunting, but his limited length puts a ceiling on him as a rim protector. As a strong side or a weak side defender. He’s not quite at the level where he can hold his own against other bigs, and this may be a concern when he’s playing against guys like Towns, Cousins and Anthony Davis. Same goes for the battle on the glass. The question still arises about whether he can block out these guys, and secure rebounds at a high enough rate.
Lauri Markkanen remains one of the most intriguing and unique prospects in the draft purely because of his offensive skillset. He has translatable skills such as size, agility and shooting that is scarce in this draft. Think Poor Man’s Dirk Nowitzki or Rich Man’s Ryan Anderson. Markkanen ranks as the best prospect available and becomes a perfect compliment next to WCS for the Kings.
Rest of the Lottery:
Pick 11: Charlotte Hornets
Zach Collins (Freshman) – Gonzaga
Pick 12: Detroit Pistons
Justin Jackson (Junior) – North Carolina
Pick 13: Denver Nuggets
Justin Patton (Freshman) – Creighton
Pick 14: Miami Heat
Luke Kennard (Sophomore) – Duke
Things to Watch:
- What the Los Angeles Lakers do with Pick 2.
It could cause chain reaction on the following selectors if Lonzo Ball is not selected.
- Where will Harry Giles Land?
Who takes a former number 1 HS recruit who has torn both his ACLs by the age of 18 (who only played 11.5mpg)?
- Draft Night Transactions.
The Celtics could dangle their pick (again), the Kings have two top 10 selections while the Blazers have THREE first rounders.