Getting a straight opinion on draft prospects at any point in the year is like pulling teeth: no one wants to attach their name to anything on paper that might be invalidated the next day. This especially has been the case this season in which the stock of basically everyone in the top ten and beyond has fluctuated wildly, only settling down recently into something approaching a measure of consensus, although it's a pretty fragile one. As a result, we have our ready-made solution to solve this: compile everyone's opinion into a form that no one likes, which probably means that we're getting somewhere.
Three of your esteemed writers, including myself, were asked to rank their current top ten prospects and list the reasoning for doing so. Those rankings have been averaged into the top ten you see below, the likely choices for whom will be donning the purple and gold in late June:
(major h/t to our fellow SBN blog Liberty Ballers for providing the foundation for this idea)
#10: Doug McDermott (average: 10.0)
Ben (ranked him #12): I love to see efficiency from prospects and no one in this draft brings it like McDermott does, scoring at an insane rate and crushing every player of the year vote because his statistics are just insane. Whatever team drafts him will definitely have to take great care to hide him on defense, but his shooting alone makes him a potentially lethal offensive force in today's NBA.
Tom (ranked him #9): I feel like people are selling McDermott short because he's a big, not super athletic white guy who dominated college. Adam Morrison comes to mind. But Dougie McBuckets has the size and skill to be a very legitimate offensive weapon at any level of basketball. His ridiculous numbers need to be repeated: his senior season he averaged 31.6 points per 40 minutes on 64.4 TS%, shooting 44.9% on threes at a high volume clip. He also was a good rebounder for his size. I think that McDermott could be an excellent offensive four in this new era of spreading the floor in the NBA.
Blake (ranked him #9): The more I see McDermott, the more I’m reminded of Ryan Anderson. The biggest difference? Anderson wasn’t racking up awards like McDermott, nor was he playing on a perennial tournament team like Creighton. I like him here the more I think about it, but it’s close with Tyler Ennis and James Young, who impressed me a lot over the past few weekends.
#9: Gary Harris (average: 9.3)
Ben (ranked him #9): Harris' shooting regressed a bit during his sophomore season, something that looks bad when compared to how fellow sharpshooters Doug McDermott and Nik Stauskas absolutely killed it this year, but Harris offers a unique opportunity to get a two-way guard that can also be effective in multiple areas on offense. He competes, is tough, and only loses a few brownie points because he's on the shorter side for a two guard.
Tom (ranked him #10): I really loved Gary Harris going into the season, but his three point regression really concerned me. If he isn't going to be a great shooter at the next level, his value falls off quite a bit. Still, he projects to be a very solid scoring wing in the NBA.
#8: Noah Vonleh (average: 7.7)
Ben (ranked him #7): Vonleh's star has perhaps dimmed a bit because he hasn't had the opportunity to show his stuff in the tournament, but he very well could gain some of that back by measuring well at the combine. Being able to play center would be great for his stock -- should he measure at say 6'10'' or 6'11'' instead of 6'9'', for instance, that would be a big boost for him -- especially considering that he rebounds exceptionally well, blocks shots, and could potentially be both a three-point and post threat.
Tom (ranked him #8): Gonna be honest, didn't watch very much Indiana this year, since they sucked, so my opinions on Vonleh are mostly off numbers and other intelligent people's opinions. His major weakness from the numbers seems to be that he turns the ball over too much (18.6 TOV%). His strengths are that he seems to be a capable shooter (16/33 from three) and a good rebounder. Where I would give the slight edge over McDermott for now is that he seems like a capable defender as well.
#6 (tie): Aaron Gordon (average: 6.7)
Ben (ranked him #6): Gordon is a prospect that definitely demands watching over just crunching his numbers, as you see his incredible athleticism put to good use blowing up pick-and-rolls and erasing attempts at the rim on defense while going for highlight dunks on offensive rebounds and cuts on offense. Definitely has a ton of room to grow, but if he can develop three-point range, could be a spectacular two-way player. That as such a young age he intuitively understands
Tom (ranked him #7): Gordon is a weird player. He seems to have elite defensive potential both guarding wings and not huge power forwards. He does an excellent job of disrupting offensive plays when he is defending. The problem is I just don't know what he is going to be able to do on offense. He's a great athlete, but he doesn't get to the rim a ton. He shoots okay sometimes, but overall it doesn't appear he ever will be a good threat from deep. Depending on what kind of role you see playing in an offense, he could rise or fall a bit on this board, but I wouldn't be shocked if he fell a bit.
Blake (ranked him #7): This feels high for Gordon, considering all I’ve seen. Offensively he looks like he could be useless if he’s not finishing a lob or a put-back. He’s an absolute threat on the boards and can’t be contained on the run, but I feel like his upside could be controlled completely by the point guard he’s running with. His comparison is Kenneth Faried, which isn’t the worst thing in the world, but grabbing him at 7 seems way high. I’d take Vonleh at this spot because of his varied skill set (a better shooting—maybe—big than Randle) and overall ability to contribute at both ends of the floor.
#6 (tie): Marcus Smart (average: 6.7)
Ben (ranked him #8): Yours truly doesn't like point guards that can't shoot, even those that contribute in so many different ways on the court as Smart does. He rebounds exceptionally well for a point guard, has prodigious block and steal rates, and just enough court vision to keep an offense humming. Definitely a prospect of note and arguably an elite one, except with a glaring flaw in his game that might make it an awkward fit next to Kobe Bryant. Both of them are ball-dominant players who are currently best in the midpost area using their strength and footwork respectively to take advantage of defenders and needless to say, it's going to require an adjustment for that relationship to work. Perhaps the intangibles factor, namely Smart's competitiveness that every outlet takes time to praise, might help him smooth this over.
Tom (ranked him #6): I really hate Marcus Smart and he's one of the worst and most egregious floppers I've ever seen. Now that I've gotten that out of the way, there still is a lot to like about Smart as a pro prospect. To put it simply, he might be great at just about everything but shooting. He's a pretty great defender, has great size and strength for a point guard, is very good at getting in to the lane and either finishing or finding teammates, and he doesn't turn the ball over very much for a point guard (14.0 TOV%). The problem is his shooting. He went back to school to prove to scouts he could shoot, and he ended up proving that he couldn't. He shot about 29.5% from three for his career, at about 5 attempts a game. I feel like Smart's success at the next level will be very dependent on if he finds a coach that can get through to him about not jacking up shots.
Blake (ranked him #6): I love Smart at this spot, but couldn’t put him any higher than this. Because of all the reasons Tom outline, I could see him anywhere in between being Marcus Banks and Dwyane Wade. He looks completely combustible on multiple levels, in terms of taking really horrid shots with a jumper that looks pretty broken and the fact that he might be a little insane. I absolutely love his potential as an explosive guard with solid ball handling skills and great footwork in the lane. To me, he looks like a number 3 pick, but he’s got so many big, red x’s that I couldn’t conscionably pick him higher than 6. Which is exactly where the Lakers might be.
#5: Dante Exum (average: 4.3)
Ben (ranked him #4): We really don't know that much about Exum besides his spectacular measurements for the point guard position and superlative athleticism, both of which are probably sufficient as far as drafting for upside goes. This is more less taking a leap of faith on a guy that has consistently gotten extremely positive reviews from any anonymous general manager or scout you could quoted in numerous draft outlets and at least from his profile, it's hard to argue. The sheer prospect of a 6'6'' point guard with a 6'9'' wingspan is a pretty terrifying one all-around. Helps certainly to see a prospect who seems especially enamored with the concept of coming to LA and will be fascinating to wait on how he does in the combine and at workouts.
Tom (ranked him #4): Completely full disclaimer, I have not seen Exum play at all. This is purely based on what others have said. But, from the outside, he seems intriguing as an athletic 6'6 point guard that can also play the two if needed. He also does seem to want to play for the Lakers, which is always nice. But don't put too much stock into where I have him ranked on this list, please.
#4: Julius Randle (average: 4.0)
Ben (ranked him #5): One of the most scrutinized players of the year, Randle has been taken to task for his perceived difficulties on defense due to his relatively short wingspan and a bruising-low post style that might not translate against taller and more athletic defenders in the pros. That said, a lot of this analysis has focused on what Randle might have trouble doing as versus what he currently does extremely well. He still has great quickness for a big of his bulk -- go back to the championship game and watch him stay with DeAndre Daniels all the way from the top of the key to the rim and erase his attempt with ease -- and combined with great ballhandling ability for a four, should be able to be deadly when facing up, which sets up the rest of his game. Give him a spaced floor Kentucky so rarely afforded him this past season, room to drive, kick out, and make that jumper he might have to develop, and it's hard to see how you really guard him.
Tom (ranked him #3): Randle seems like a pretty safe pick. A bit undersized at the four, he makes up for it with lots of skill and beastly athleticism. He has great handles for his size and uses it to bully his way to the rim. I do have a feeling he will have a lot of charges at the next level, as his style of just ramming people over likely won't catch NBA defenses off guard. There also is a question of his his perimeter game is, as he didn't really show it very much in Calipari's offense. Oh, also he's a fantastic rebounder, which usually translates.
Blake (ranked him #4): I’d take Randle in this spot, just because like everyone else, I’m really wary of a foreign player that’s looked great on Youtube videos beating up a bunch of 17 year-olds. Randle is a solid, safe pick, who could be a better passing Al Horford-lite. However, I’m not sure that he has the upside of Parker, Wiggins, Embiid, or allegedly Exum.
#3: Jabari Parker (average: 3.7)
Ben (ranked him #3): The fact that Parker's been playing awful defense for most of the season got exposed against Mercer in the first round and there's no denying that he needs a lot of work on this end. There's been questions as to whether he's actually a three or a four in the pros and it's becoming increasingly difficult to see him staying in front of wings on a consistent basis. This isn't to say that his defense couldn't improve or become quite serviceable, really, but the fact that it's such a disadvantage for him currently has to be taken into account. No one in the draft matches his offensive versatility, however, and he seems destined to be effective on that end for a long time in the NBA.
Tom (ranked him #5): Jabari Parker had a really good freshman season (following an unsustainable hot start that led to the widespread false belief that he was the best Freshman of the Year) and there were some very obvious strengths and weaknesses that emerged from it. He looked dominant both physically and skilled at times, especially down low when he was attacking the rim from a spread out offense. His jumper looked great at times, but eventually fell off quite a bit. The main problem is I feel pretty certain he will be a bad defender at the NBA level. He constantly struggled guarding all positions on that end, leading Coach K to even pull him late in games when he needed a stop. Not what you want from a projected top 5 pick. Still, a lot of things to like about him. The lazy but somewhat appropriate projection is Melo with a worse jumper.
Blake (ranked him #3): I’d personally take Parker at this spot, just because of his upside. In Randle, I see a very good player who is adept in many different fields, but not necessarily a dominant player on any front. Tom brings up a great point in terms of us not really knowing his potential as an outside threat, which could completely alter what is actual value and ceiling are. But that being said, at this pick, I’d rather shoot for a player that can become an elite player at one end of the floor and hopefully teach him (or surround him with the personnel to hide his weaknesses) to be at least adequate defensively. Parker has the look of a very, very good NBA scorer that could end up being far more efficient than his comp player, Carmelo Anthony.
#2: Joel Embiid (average: 2.0)
Ben (ranked him #2): Without the back issues, he might very well end up at #1 because he looks to be on the trajectory to developing into a franchise center. Impacts the game on both ends, demonstrated incredible growth and refinement in his game for a guy who only started playing basketball a few years ago, and he offers elite size and athleticism for his position. Always risky, however, to deal with a draft prospect with injury issues, although we will definitely get a clearer picture of where he is at during the combine and such. If anything, it is a testament to his upside and potential that he's still so high on most boards regardless.
Tom (ranked him #2): Now we're getting to the two Jayhawks, which I spent most of the year watching very closely every game. I will say that I am lower on Embiid's longterm potential than most. His lack of any strength, particularly in the lower body, was a huge concern for me before he even started having back injury problems. Unless he adds a ton of strength, he will get bullied in the post by NBA bigs. At times, this happened even against college bigs. He turns the ball over too much, especially in the post. Now, for the good news. He moves incredibly fluidly for his size, as well as running the floor extremely well. He can finish above and below the rim. He is one of the most adept bigs I've ever seen at using reverse layups on one dribble baseline moves (he likes spinning). He converted his shots, (65.5 TS%) and he showed really good rim protecting potential, despite having a few issues on defense. The biggest thing Embiid has going for him, though, is that he is a legitimate 7 footer, and centers with high potential are not very common, and they seem to be getting rarer. I think he's a bit of a risk, but a team with good young pieces at other spots will have an impossible time turning down Embiid.
Blake (ranked him #2): I’m wary on 7-footers with burgeoning offensive skills, simply because of the historical precedent over the past ten years at the top of the lottery. Guys like Hasheem Thabeet, Tyrus Thomas, Patrick O’Bryant and Ekpe Udoh have scared me off quite a bit, simply because it’s pretty difficult to teach someone how to score. That being said, he’s far more developed than any of those guys at that age, and if a key issue (as Tom pointed out) is building strength, that’s a problem that can be allayed with the best trainers in the world. Still, I’d take Embiid number 2 without a doubt, simply because his potential as a game-changing defensive force is so, so valuable in this new NBA.
#1: Andrew Wiggins (average: 1.0)
Ben (ranked him #1): To me, this is still the most desirable outcome of the draft. Wiggins is already a rock solid defensive player, a really incredible outcome for a freshman wing, and although he's certainly not flawless in that regard -- he will often overplay opponents because his insane athleticism allows him to recover with ease -- he's so far ahead of the curve that it's difficult to imagine him not becoming a difference maker on that end at the next level. Watch him close out to shooters in an instant, erase drives with his fantastic length, and check players off the ball and his potential really feels boundless. Even considering his flaws offensively, namely his ballhandling and court vision, he still is a positive force on that end and the sheer reality of a dominant two-way wing is right in front of you.
Tom (ranked him #1): Wiggins, in my opinion, was the best college freshman this season, and he also projects to have the highest potential. Despite being criticized for lack of offensive polish and inconsistency, he was still a solid offensive player that ranked higher in Otrg than Randle, Parker, and Embiid according to Kenpom. Toward the end of the year he was getting to the rim whenever he wanted, getting fouled a lot, finishing in transition, and hitting some big shots. His two main weaknesses are his left hand (he needs to improve both going left and finishing left) and the streakiness of his jumper, both of which might be improved. He also will likely get far more transition opportunities in the NBA, which he was outstanding at due to his absolute freak athleticism. KU's defense was not very good at forcing turnovers, so he didn't get a ton of transition chances this season. Finally, and most importantly, he's an elite defender. He was one of the most polished defenders as a freshman I have ever seen in college. Consistently he got put on opposing teams best scorers, and consistently those scorers stopped scoring when he was guarding them. KU's defense allowed more than 9 points fewer per possession when Wiggins was on the court. The offense he was operating in was also a pretty awful fit for his skillset. Wiggins is pretty clearly the top of this draft class, and I don't really think it's very close.
If you want a table with our respective rankings to make sense of the averages:
|1||Andrew Wiggins||Andrew Wiggins||Andrew Wiggins|
|2||Joel Embiid||Joel Embiid||Joel Embiid|
|3||Jabari Parker||Julius Randle||Jabari Parker|
|4||Dante Exum||Dante Exum||Julius Randle|
|5||Julius Randle||Jabari Parker||Dante Exum|
|6||Aaron Gordon||Marcus Smart||Marcus Smart|
|7||Noah Vonleh||Aaron Gordon||Aaron Gordon|
|8||Marcus Smart||Noah Vonleh||Noah Vonleh|
|9||Gary Harris||Doug McDermott||Doug McDermott|
|10||Willie Cauley-Stein||Gary Harris||Tyler Ennis|