Ben Simmons, LSU, Freshman - Simmons is one of the most physically talented basketball players to hit the college basketball scene in the last 5-10 years. He is the first player since Ron Harper in 1986 to average 19 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 assists per game at the college level. At 6’10″, he is extremely skilled, shows exceptional ball-handling for his size, great vision, and a soft touch on the floor. He is athletic, moves fluidly in the open court, and uses his length well at times. Simmons sees the court well, and has a good understanding of how to play on the court. However, contrary to what most scouts believe, he is not an elite athlete and he does not necessarily know when and how to get his shots. He has not dominated at the college level because he can be indecisive on the basketball court, and though he has the skill set to excel in college and at the next level, he has not put it all together yet. Simmons needs his footwork on the perimeter and in the interior honed to become a consistent scorer, but he has all the physical tools to become one. He has the most potential in this draft, however needs at least one year of college to become the type of player who will make an impact in the NBA.
Brandon Ingram, Duke, Freshman – Brandon Ingram came to Duke University as a talented high school All-American who would learn from and play second fiddle to his NCAA champion backcourt teammate Grayson Allen while the Blue Devils attempted to win back-to-back titles in the tournament. Instead, Ingram proved to be the most talented Blue Devil on the court and he scored at will while facilitating the Duke offense from the wing. He can penetrate off the dribble, make open jumpers from the top of the key, or find teammates for easy scores. He has a fluid stroke from deep even though he shoots the basketball from over his shoulder, he handles the basketball better than most college shooting guards, and he makes plays for his teammates when he slashes to the rim. Ingram is long, rangy, and athletic. He uses his 6’8″ frame and 7’5″ wingspan to make plays on both sides of the basketball.
Marcus Lee, Kentucky, Junior - Had he left as a freshman, Marcus Lee would have been almost guaranteed a spot in the first round. He was an incredibly athletic big man with long arms who was quick off the ground and made an impact on the boards, blocking shots, and attacking the rim. Injuries have tempered his athleticism, however he is still one of only a few big men who can make a difference under the rim. Lee averaged 6.4 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks in 21.8 minutes per game in his junior season, and though those averages are meager overall, he was proven to be very productive in limited playing time. With professionals teaching him proper footwork, and with a little more weight, Lee could be a solid pick for a NBA team that could use a year to develop him.
Skal Labissiere, Kentucky, Freshman - Skal Labissiere has been one of the great enigmas of this college season. He is as physically gifted as anyone in this draft, but it has only bee seen in flashes on the floor. Athletically, he compares to Amare Stoudemaire in all his tests, but his confidence was broken by his coach putting him in a position where he was not comfortable and it showed on the basketball court. Labissiere was forced to play center at Kentucky and operated almost exclusively with his back to the basket in the post. And, while those are skills that will serve him at the next level, he was not ready to play that type of game at the college level. Plus, playing with his back to the basket negated some of his best attributes. Labissiere has great hands and good footwork when facing the rim. He is one of the few big men in the country that can get his own shot without someone setting him up with an assist. And, he has a great stroke for a big man. When he caught the basketball and faced the rim, Skal used a quick first step to get easier shots or pulled up and nailed midrange shots consistently. He blocked shots on pure athleticism, but still needs to work on positioning and hone his footwork on offense and defense. He also needs to put on more weight to be effective at the next level, but he has a good frame already. In a year, with the right coaching and a focus on effective footwork, Skal Labissere could be a better pro than he ever was in college.
Denzel Valentine, Michigan State, Senior – Denzel Valentine is a rarity in college basketball today, a senior star. He really understands basketball and always seems to make the right play on the court. His intangibles are of the chart like former Michigan State standout Draymond Green, who is starring with the Golden State Warriors. Valentine has great timing on his passes, he makes big shots, and he runs the Spartans offense from the small forward position. He is very versatile player. He plays well off the basketball using screens to pop open, but excels with the basketball in his hands. Valentine had a triple double in regulation time this season with 29 points, 12 rebounds, and 12 assists. The only knocks on him are his average athleticism and some correctable mechanics on his shot. He leaves his elbow out when he shoots the basketball, so when he shoots the ball he pushes the shot more than he should. But, he scores the three ball well regardless. Denzel Valentine could be a great pick for a team that needs solid role players who can make impactful contributions.
Buddy Hield, Oklahoma, Senior - Buddy Hield will stick in the NBA because of his elite shooting. As a senior, he shot 50.1% overall, hit 45.7% of his shots from the three point line, and was second in the nation in scoring with 25.0 points per game. He scored a lot of points in his final year, and he did it efficiently. Hield scores well when he plays off the basketball, he finished at the rim this season, and he scores well off pick and rolls. He has a quick release on his deadly jumper, he honed his ball-handling skills, and hits big shots. Overall, Hield has a good feel for scoring the basketball. He has good NBA size and strength, and worked his way into being an outstanding defender.
Melo Trimble, Maryland, Sophomore - Has put on a few needed pounds but has not lost his stroke or his quick first step. Trimble knows how to get his shot and knocks it down when he takes it. He is a very efficient shooter from deep, but hits midrange jumpers too. His pull-up game is polished, and Trimble consistently uses great footwork to get clean shots off the dribble. He plays well with the basketball and off the ball. The only knocks on Trimble are his size and his lack of elite athleticism. In the NBA, he would be an average athlete at best. He has a good burst off the dribble, but he does not finish well in the paint when he gets all the way to the rim because he can not out jump defenders. His floater is his best weapon in the paint and he uses a step-back jumper well in traffic too. He also needs to shore up his turnovers. He averages nearly as many turnovers as he does assists, 2.5 and 3.0 respectively. However, the recent success of smaller, sharp-shooting guards like Steve Nash and Steph Curry, with their unique combination of elite shooting and great ball-handling have proven effective at the NBA level. With some attention on his ball-handling and turnovers, Melo Trimble could be successful at the next level.
Thon Maker, Orangeville District Secondary School, High School Senior - There is a lot of controversy surrounding Thon Maker. First, he played for his high school team for a fifth year and was declared eligible for the NBA draft because he is 19 years old and he technically graduated last year. He will be the first player taken straight from high school in over a decade, and there is controversy around his real age. He moved from Australia to Canada and there has been some question about his records. But, his talent is undeniable. Maker is 7’1″, with long arms and a great motor. He handles the basketball like a small forward, has a great motor, and has good mechanics on his jump shot though he needs more repetitions to hone his shooting. He has a diverse skill set for a man his size and he has the potential to be a superstar at the next level. However, he gets overpowered by stronger players and because of his unique skill set he makes poor decisions with the basketball. Thon Maker could be the second coming of Kevin Garnett or a position-less seven footer in the NBA.
Diamond Stone, Maryland, Freshman - Stone was slightly underused at Maryland because the Terrapins had a very talented squad this season. But, he has the talent to become the best player from this Maryland team once he gets to the next level. Diamond Stone is strong on the low block with good hands and excellent footwork. He knows how to get his shot in the paint. He has an assortment of hook shots and turnaround jumpers that he uses for interior scoring. He has shown some counters in his post game, but he needs to continue to progress to be special in the NBA. He has NBA good size and a good frame right now. Stone rebounds well and he fights on the defensive end of the floor. Though he does not have exceptional leaping ability, he uses his length and positioning to alter shots. If he continues to develop, Diamond Stone will be a good pro.
A.J. Hammons, Purdue, Senior – A.J. Hammons is an elite athlete and a legitimate seven footer. His natural abilities trump those of any big man in the country, however he had not put it all together until this season. In his final season, Hammons showed a little refinement on his post moves. He showed some counters, good footwork, and he even knocked down a few shots from deep. His potential on the offensive end was finally realized in his final season. And, there is still a lot of room for improvement. His footwork still needs work, he could use a definitive go-to move in the post, like his right hook, and because he is such a good athlete, he has not had to work for positioning. Hammons has the natural ability to be a transcendent basketball player like Tim Duncan if he puts in the work. At worst, he will be Javale McGhee, talented but underachieving. He blocks shots that he should not get to, and holds an average of 2.6 blocks on his career at Purdue. He will be a pro based solely on his size and athleticism. How good he can be is dependent on his work ethic.
Kris Dunn, Providence, Junior – In the open court, Kris Dunn looks magnificent at times. He consistently makes good decisions on the break, getting the basketball to the rim with penetration and passing the ball to open players where they can get their shots. He moves the ball up the court where so many young athletes dribble the basketball themselves and kill the break. The halfcourt is a little different though. His jump shot has become more reliable in the last year, but not efficient enough to make him unstoppable in set plays. He does have great size and good quickness with the basketball, so Dunn still makes plays in the halfcourt. He is an excellent rebounder for a guard, and he can score on the interior. However, he does not have as much touch on shots in the paint as someone with his physical gifts would be expected to have. He could very well develop into an All-Star at the next level though if he steadies his shot and learns to create in the set plays consistently.
Jamal Murray, Kentucky, Freshman – Jamal Murray may be the purest scorer in college basketball. He is a big point guard at 6’5″, he can handle the basketball to create shots for himself and for his teammates, or he can play off the ball. He played more shooting guard this season because his teammate Tyler Ulis is possibly the best college point guard in the nation, however Murray made good decisions with the basketball when he had to run the offense. He has a very refined offensive game for a freshman. He showed excellent footwork on his pull-up jumper, he used a floater when necessary, and he could get to the rim and score over bigs with either hand. He is a complete offensive player. He knows how to get his shot and he hits big shots. Murray has a good feel for the game, and he does make some good passes when he penetrates. If he learned to use his scoring to create more for his teammates, then he could become a dominant guard at the next level. Murray lacks the elite quickness to dominate off the dribble, but he uses change direction and speed to get to his spots. If his shot continues to develop, Murray could be special at the next level. If he does not develop any further, he will probably still be a starter in the NBA. He is as close to a “can’t miss” for general managers as there is in this draft.
Jaylen Brown, California, Freshman – Jaylen Brown is the purest athlete in the college game. He is big, strong, fast, and he can jump out of the gym. He can score in traffic and is a monster on the break, but his shooting numbers do not match his talent yet. Brown is a great athlete and he thinks the game well, but he needs repetitions on his jump shot to become a more consistent shooter, and he needs help with his footwork on the perimeter. Physically, he is ready to play at the next level right now. He muscles defenders in the paint to get his shots, he has an explosive first step, and he can out jump his defenders at the rim. Brown has a solid NBA frame and elite physical tools. He needs to refine his game and be more decisive on offense to be a star in the league, but all the tools are present.
Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga, Sophomore – Sabonis averaged 17.6 points and 11.8 rebounds per game for a talented Gonzaga team this season. And, his implicit understanding of the game of basketball shines through in every play. From the power forward position, Sabonis created shots for all his teammates. His intangibles are his best feature. He sees the floor like a man half his size, and he understands angles and passing lanes. Sabonis lacks the elite size and athleticism that his Hall of Fame father had, but he is a good athlete with good NBA size and he is extremely efficient. He averaged 63.2% field goal percentage in two years at Gonzaga. Sabonis plays within himself and within the system. That could be helpful at the next level, but it could also be a detriment. He may need to open up his offense at the next level. He has good touch on set shots, but is still an inconsistent shooter and he seems to struggle against size, but rebounds well and plays hard. With his motor, size, and feel for the game, Sabonis could be a solid professional for the next decade in the NBA.
Gary Payton II, Oregon State, Senior – Gary Payton II has all the physical tools to be a good pro in the NBA. He stands about 6’3″ with a 6’6.5″ wingspan, a quick first step, and explosive leaping ability. He is a blur when he is running in a straight line, he can finish with a highlight reel dunk when he gets a lane, and he rebounds extremely well for a guard. Payton fills up the stat books just like his father, the Hall of Fame point guard for the Seattle Supersonics, Gary Payton Sr. He averaged 5.0 assists per game last season with 2.5 steals in every contest. His athleticism shines through on both sides of the basketball. Though he has not been a shutdown defensive player, he definitely has the potential to be one. Payton needs repetitions to hone his jump shot as it is the sole weak point in his arsenal. He lacks a little creativity with the basketball, but he would not need it f he had a reliable jumper. Adding a floater to his shots in the paint could also make him more effective when he turns the corner.