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NBA Draft notebook: Sixteen prospects to watch in the Sweet Sixteen

In the second of two editions, Aaron provides his insights about a group of prospects who will be playing in NCAA tournament games this upcoming weekend.

NCAA Basketball: UCLA at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
Two years ago, I had an idea to post a "Sweet Sixteen" primer, and it seemed to be something readers enjoyed. Therefore, I've decided to continue the breakdown of College Basketball/NBA prospects this year. Also, please feel free to check out the primers from 2015 and/or 2016, they are nice visits down memory lane which include numerous players who are now thriving in the NBA.

I've always considered Draft night as a personal favorite holiday of mine where the two basketball worlds that I love, college and the NBA, come together. I've had a passion for College Basketball since I was eight years old. I was raised in a baseball household, but I fell in love with the game watching guys like Laettner, Hurley, Hill, and the Fab Five.

The NCAA tournament has turned into one of the great sports spectacles in the country. With the second weekend of NCAA tournament games ahead of us, I thought I would write a primer listing 16 prospects slated to play in the Sweet 16 to keep an eye on.

What I would really like to see is an active comments section within the OPP community about some of these players. How do you think they would fit on the Magic? What is your assessment of their games - strengths & weaknesses? I was hoping this could be the "official un-official" game thread for the rest of the NCAA tournament. Enjoy!

D.J. Wilson, Michigan - 21 years old
6-10, 240 lbs - PF

Wilson is a lot of fun man. The shorts, the hair; I dig it. You’re talking about a kid that was sparsely recruited out of high school as well as someone who missed the majority of his freshmen year due to injury (and was granted a medical redshirt). Last year, Wilson played only about five minutes per contest.

Although inconsistent at times, Wilson finally got significant minutes for the Wolverines this season. There may not be a hotter player in the country than Wilson. He’s averaging 18 points through two tournament games to go along with over 3 blocks per contest. Wilson’s magical run began in the Big Ten Tournament when he hung 26 points on nationally ranked Purdue.

Wilson has nice length for an NBA power forward, and I think he does offer some stretch “4” potential (36% from behind the arc, also over 80% from the line). Only getting to the charity stripe a couple times per/40 is alarming, and he doesn’t really rebound the basketball well.

Wilson is not a perfect prospect, but he’s got some momentum going. The Wolverines are on one heck of a run, and Wilson is a big reason why.

Allonzo Trier, Arizona - 21 years old
6-5, 200 lbs - SG

Allonzo has really caught my attention this season at Arizona. I think scouts “sleep” on Trier a bit because he’s a prospect that’s been so highly touted for so long. In other words, he had a lot of hype surrounding him in high school, but many NBA pundits would call his freshmen season at Arizona to be up-and-down at best, and disappointing at worst. But I see improvement in Trier’s game.

First of all, he’s not undersized for an NBA wing position like many persisted he was a couple years back. Trier is currently listed at just over 6’5’’, at least a couple inches taller than he was listed in high school. His size is not excellent for the NBA shooting guard position (6-6 wingspan), but I don’t think it’s completely detrimental either. He’s a very solid 200+ pounds; his toned upper-body doesn’t give off the impression that he’s afraid of the weight room. I don’t know if Trier can get away with becoming a combo-guard in the NBA; he has a long way to go with his ball-handling skills and awareness that would allow him to facilitate for others at the next level.

But he can score (22 points per/40, 40% from 3PT), and he’s especially adept at getting to the line (nearly 9 FTA’s per/40 this season). Trier is averaging 16/6 through two NCAA tournament contests. Some scouts think Trier turns the ball over too frequently, I don’t think his career turnover rate is completely egregious for a guy with the ball in his hands as much as it is.

Frankly, I think Trier is a guy (if he comes out early) who will shoot up draft boards. His maturity and demeanor is lacking where they need to be, so is his overall defensive awareness and commitment. He’s pretty one-dimensional at this point, but I think the upside is there with Trier. I think he would be an excellent second round selection by the Magic (currently ranked as a Top 70 prospect by Draft Express, mocked to go in the early Second Round of the 2017 draft).

Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga - 22 years old
6-4, 185 lbs - PG

What strikes me about Williams-Goss is his steady production throughout his career. I would have assumed that his per/40 accumulating counting stats would have been much greater during his time at Washington. Washington plays at a pretty wide-open, fast-tempo kind of pace. Compared to the Huskies, the Bulldogs of Gonzaga are known much more for their balance, their efficiency, and their team defense. If anything, Williams-Goss has improved considerably in almost every aspect of his game (shooting efficiency, range, getting to the line, cutting down on turnovers, etc.) during his time in Spokane. Now granted, he’s older now (22) and plays nightly against lesser competition.

For me, Nigel Williams-Goss is dependable but not spectacular. I really believe he could be a Second Round pick that’s viewed almost as an after-thought, but turns into a guy that makes an NBA roster. He has good size for the position, and his shooting and play-making skills are trending in the right direction. From what I’ve seen, he’s pretty crafty getting into the lane and converting on floaters as well. A guard with a PER over 26 and a TS% over 60% is making positive plays. Through two NCAA tournament games, Williams-Goss is averaging 14.5 points, including a 20 point output against Northwestern last contest. He will have a very tough test in the Sweet Sixteen matched-up against the best pressing team in the nation (West Virginia).

Devin Robinson, Florida - 22 years old
6-8, 205 lbs - SF

I really like Devin Robinson’s potential in the NBA to become a “3 & D” wing. Robinson has made considerable strides shooting the basketball from the outside (just under 2 3PTM per/40, just under 40%) in his three years at Florida. More than thirty-five percent of his field goal attempts come from behind the arc (I wish that number was a little higher actually), he doesn’t offer much else offensively.

Robinson has ideal NBA length required to defend perimeter players at the next level (7-0 wingspan). He’s very active on the defensive end (combined 2.6 steals and blocks per/40 this season). Just under 10 rebounds a contest per/40 is pretty respectable for a wing player as well, he’s aggressive around the ball for sure.

The Gators rolled through their tournament site in Orlando last weekend, and Robinson was huge in both games. Through the Gators first two tournament games, Robinson is averaging 19/9 (45% from “3”). I mention this because Robinson is listed as a potential early to mid-second round pick by Draft Express at the moment (46th overall prospect in 2017); his continued successful play in the NCAA tournament could help boost his stock in the eyes of NBA scouts.

Dillon Brooks, Oregon - 21 years old
6-7, 215 lbs - SF

Dillon Brooks has been a fine college player, better than fine even (PER of 27.6 this year, 2nd in the Pac-12). He has improved his ability to convert both inside and outside (41% from “3”, up from career averages in the low 30%’s) every year he’s been in college. Brooks posted a true shooting percentage above 65% in conference play this season, not too shabby at all (26.5 points per/40).

But what kind of future does a 6-7 (probably more like 6-6) small forward with a recorded 6-4 wingspan have in the NBA? A lot of the success Brooks achieves at the college level comes from his ability to play power-forward, which creates serious mismatch problems for opposing non-athletic bigs. He surely won’t be able to do that at the next level. He doesn’t rebound well for someone as athletic as Brooks is, which doesn’t bode well when projecting someone at the next level. His nearly 4.5 assists per/40 metric is a positive, and he can shoot it. Will he be able to defend in the NBA though? I love the fiery attitude Brooks plays with, but his defensive prowess has never been his calling card. Brooks probably doesn’t crack the First Round of the 2017 draft ,but I’m sure he will go early Second. Orlando is slated to have one (or possibly even two) pick(s) in that range, and they could be in the market for a wing scorer like Dillon Brooks (18.5 PPG through two NCAA tournament contests).

Caleb Swanigan, Purdue - 19 years old
6-9, 250 lbs - PF/C

Swanigan has been a huge beneficiary of the NBA’s new rule that allows draft entrants to withdraw their name’s from the early-entry list and return to their respective schools without penalty. Swanigan did just that last summer, declaring for the 2016 draft, but then ultimately deciding to return to Purdue for his sophomore campaign after a few less than stellar showings at the Draft Combine, during workouts with NBA organizations, etc.

Swanigan has been Mr. Everything for the Boilermakers this year (twenty-eight double-doubles this season, thirteen 20/10 games, even four 20/20 games); he was able to parlay his decision to return to Purdue into a Big Ten Player of the Year award, a spot on the USA Today All-American team, and an opportunity to play into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament (and possibly beyond).

If you’re wondering why a player of Swanigan’s caliber would be mocked as a late 1st/early 2nd round pick in this year’s draft, look no further than his measurements. I fear that Swanigan may be without a position in the NBA that suits him at the moment. Standing at 6-9 with a 7-3 wingspan and 8-11 standing reach, Swanigan is more than long enough to play the PF position in the NBA. Unfortunately, he’s probably 15-20 lbs. too heavy to cover PF’s in the NBA today. To his credit, Swanigan has improved his body and conditioning tremendously during his time at Purdue; he was listed at 270 pounds prior to his freshmen season.

Swanigan will probably be forced to play as a small-ball center in the NBA. Now your’e talking about a guy who’s kind of smallish to play in the paint in the NBA, but his weight and length will still be useful. The guy can flat out rebound (15.5 REB per/40), he definitely possesses at least that one NBA-skill. To be fair, Swanigan has shown this season the ability to do a lot more than just rebound (43% on 2.9 3PA’s per/40, just under 4 AST per/40). His turnovers this season are a problem for me (over 4 per/40), but those numbers can best be explained by the fact that the basketball is in his hands nearly every possession. As far has Swanigan’s prospects as a player in the NBA, I’m a lot more concerned about his lack of lift and athleticism (recorded 26-inch vertical at the Combine last year).

I wouldn’t take Swanigan in the 1st round, but if he’s still on the board when Orlando selects in the Second Round, I would have to think the value alone would be enough for the Magic to take a chance on Caleb. He can shoot it a bit, he can rebound a lot (eclipsed 20+ rebounds three times in a four game stretch in late December). There’s a decent enough chance he carves out a niche as an NBA rotation-level player. Oh, and he’s still only 19; Swanigan (a sophomore) is younger than freshmen in this year’s draft such as Josh Jackson and T.J. Leaf.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Kentucky vs Wichita State Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Bam Adebayo, Kentucky - 19 years old
6-10, 250 lbs - C

How cool is it that a guy who dunks the basketball as frequently as Adebayo does is named “Bam”? That’s honestly what I love about Bam the most, the ferocity and anger that he plays with. He doesn’t seem to care who he’s going against; every time Adebayo catches the ball cleanly in the paint, he’s trying to slam the ball down their throat.

Unfortunately, dunks, put-backs, and lobs are about the extent of Adebayo’s offensive arsenal at the moment (61% 2PT FG%). Still, I just get a sense that Bam’s best basketball days are far ahead of him. I have to admit, when I watch Kentucky play, I find myself just staring at Adebayo’s shoulders. I’m not afraid to disclose this. I can’t help it; I have fond memories of another young teenage post player with broad shoulders who dominated the paint for the Magic for years. Adebayo’s body is every bit as impressive as Dwight’s was, even more so than Howard’s body coming out of high school.

Adebayo didn’t dominate as much his freshmen year as scouts would have liked him to, but I don’t see many major red-flags in his game either. 2.0 blocks per/40 is an adequate number for a post-defender, and he rarely was in foul trouble this season (2.7 PF per/game). Bam will need to improve his passing ability out of the post if he’s going to thrive in the NBA, and he will obviously need to develop a couple go-to moves on the block. I’m not sure at this point if he will declare for the draft this year or not. He’s probably one of the guys in the tournament who has the most to gain from a solid showing (he’s averaging 14/14 through two games). If Adebayo does declare, I would be more than thrilled if Orlando decided to pull the trigger and select him with their LAC/TOR pick. He just has too much upside to be passed on that late, doesn’t he? But will he be around at that stage of the draft? With the way Adebayo’s stock is heading, I doubt it.

T.J. Leaf, UCLA - 20 years old
6-10, 225 lbs - PF

There’s a lot to like about T.J. Leaf, there’s a lot to be skeptical of. I love Leaf’s skill-set and basketball IQ, I hate the fact that he’s 6-10 with a 6-11 wingspan (standing reach of nearly 9 feet is more than adequate though). I’m impressed by the fact that he connected on nearly 65% of his 2PA’s this season, but only getting to the line three times a game - not so impressive. Leaf posted a TS% of 66% as a college freshmen, that’s getting it done (over 40% from “3”). But he struggled for the majority of the season moving his feet defensively, defending the pick-and-roll, and defending the rim (pretty much just defending in general).

Leaf is a gifted offensive player. He possesses the skill set to pick-and-pop, pick-and-roll, and facilitate an offense as a passer from the low or even high post (3.5 assists per/40). He’s also a solid rebounder (11 REB’s per/40); with the quality basketball instincts that he has, a bit of added strength can do Leaf even more wonders in this department. And he takes care of the ball well.

I just think maybe he plays with too much finesse at times. That may not hurt Leaf as much as it would have in the 80’s or 90’s at the power forward position. But will he be able to guard anyone in the NBA? It’s not a given that Leaf declares for the NBA draft this season, but if he does, he’s probably a middle to late 1st round pick. If UCLA goes on a deep run in the NCAA tournament, Leaf probably leaves, we will see (he’s averaging 17 PPG through his first two NCAA tournament games). Leaf is only 20, so if I were the Magic and he was still on the board when they use their LAC/TOR pick, I would probably take a flyer on T.J. Leaf.

Johnathan Motley, Baylor - 21 years old
6-9, 230 lbs - PF

Motley has blossomed in Waco from a moderate prospect coming out of high school, to a freshmen starter for the Bears two seasons ago, to a legitimate superstar in this his junior campaign. In doing so, Motley has firmly implanted his name in first round NBA Draft conversations.

The strength of Motley’s game begins with his ability to crash the boards, especially the offensive boards (122 offensive rebounds this season, 275 O-boards for his career). Motley led the Big-12 in offensive rebounds, total rebounds, offensive rebounding %, defensive rebounding %, and total rebounding % this year (over 13 boards per/40 this season). Motley has posted double-digit rebounding numbers in sixteen games this season, including both NCAA tournament games to date. Motley also possesses superior NBA length; I’m talking a standing reach over 9’3’’ and a wingspan of nearly 7’4’’.

Outside of rebounding, Motley doesn’t offer a whole lot to prospective NBA clubs. He has zero outside game to speak of, and he doesn’t really convert 2PA’s at an eye-popping clip either (54% for his career). Motley gets to the line at a decent clip due to his superior length and athleticism, but who knows if that’s something sustainable in the NBA. Motley’s 3 assists per/40 mark he posted this season is absolutely a positive, but is sort of cancelled out by the fact that he turned it over at a rate of 4 per/40.

Rebounding is a skill that I don’t think NBA teams should have to pay a high price for (because it’s easily found), and I think drafting Motley in the 15-25 range would probably be too high of a price. Motley would be a great selection by the Magic towards the front-end of the Second Round, but I wouldn’t support anything earlier than that.

Zach Collins, Gonzaga - 19 years old
7-0, 230 lbs - PF/C

Zach Collins is not a household name; admittedly, I’ve only seen him play on a handful of occasions. Let’s face it, Gonzaga is often tipping-off well past this old man’s bedtime here on the East Coast. However, Collins is a guy who’s name is spoken pretty highly of within NBA scouting circles.

His numbers are absolutely absurd (per/40 line of nearly 24/13/4 blocks). Despite averaging a mere 17 MPG for the ‘Zags during his freshmen campaign, Collins was still able to block two or more shots on seventeen separate occasions. In a limited role, Collins was still able to get to the free-throw line six or more times in a game eleven different times, and failed to shoot at least 50% from the field or higher only three times in Gonzaga’s 30+ contests (68% on 2PA, 45% on 20 3PA’s, 65% FG%, 75% FT%, over 70% TS%). Ridiculous.

Something to keep in mind though regarding Collins is that he’s absolutely a part-time reserve player for Gonzaga. The numbers looks fantastic when extrapolated out to 36 or 40 minutes, but in reality, Collins has only played 21 or more minutes five times this season. I feel a bit hesitant to trust some of these eye-popping numbers from Zach’s freshmen campaign because they primarily came against pretty marginal to flat-out poor competition. The West Coast Conference is not the NBA, and Collins did the majority of his damage this season against reserve players in the WCC.

Look, this is not a “buyer beware” warning from me in regards to drafting Collins, he’s only 19 years old. I would just like to see Collins a bit more, perhaps in a more alpha-role. Draft Express lists Collins as a Top-30 prospect on their renowned site, but they actually include Collins as a potential lottery pick in the 2018 draft, and I have to agree. Zach Collins would be best served to return to Spokane for one more season, and prove that he belongs in the conversation as a legitimate NBA lottery pick. If Collins does declare for the draft this season, he would likely be very much in play for Orlando wherever their LAC/TOR pick happens to fall.

Justin Jackson, North Carolina - 22 years old
6-8, 195 lbs - SF

Has there ever been a more unassuming ACC Player of the Year? Justin Jackson isn’t even THE Jackson of this draft class. He’s just a kid who has absolutely worked his butt off to become the player he is today. According to Draft Express, Jackson connected on more three-pointers this season than the rest of his career combined (Career 29% 3P%, bumped it to 39% this season from behind the arc).

I don’t believe Jackson is ever going to be a #1 (or even second) option for an NBA offense, far from it. But he can be a very nice complimentary player if drafted into the right situation (ranks 3rd in 3PT makes per/40 amongst Draft Express Top 100 prospects). Jackson is very polished; he has started over 100 games at North Carolina, and continues to get better (TO% less than 10% the past two seasons).

However, I am skeptical of how high Draft Express is currently ranking Jackson. I think Jackson makes a lot of sense towards the end of the 1st round, because I think that type of draft slot appropriately matches his NBA ceiling. Yet Draft Express is currently mocking him as a late lottery pick (slotting him as their #14 overall prospect in 2017). I just think that’s too high for Jackson. For 22 years of age, he’s still pretty thin. Jackson’s body, his mannerisms, pretty much everything about him reminds me so much of Matt Barnes. But Jackson is NOT Matt Barnes. Magic fans know that “Matt Barnes will kill you”; for me, Jackson is missing that kind of edge.

He’s just the unassuming other Jackson. And he would be a great pick for the Magic in the mid-20’s (using the LAC/TOR pick), but I’m not sure he will still be on the board then; that’s probably okay.

Malik Monk, Kentucky - 19 years old
6-3, 190 lbs - SG

Can Malik Monk play the “2” in the NBA? I lead with this simple question because it’s really the only question I have regarding Monk. He’s only 6’3’’. Even more worrisome, his wingspan this past Fall at Kentucky’s Pro Day was measured under 6-5. With average strength and reach for an NBA wing, I really question whether Monk will be able to defend at the next level. Is that enough of a question for a team to pass on him in the lottery, absolutely not. So how high in the draft will he go? Will a team in the Top-5 look past his poor measurements? Top-10?

Without question, Monk has big-time top of the draft-worthy ability. Monk possesses elite NBA athleticism (can you say 42-inch vertical?) as well as top-end NBA shooting acumen (3.4 3PM’s per/40 at a 39% clip, led the SEC in makes & percentage), that combination is extremely rare. Monk can flat-out fill it up, he’s a guy that will be able (in the NBA) to score in double-digits in his sleep for his entire career (led the SEC in scoring, scored 20 points or more in a game eighteen times, scored 30 or more four times this season). Is that enough? What exactly is the SEC Player of the Year’s ceiling in the NBA?

If he can’t defend, if he lacks ideal size, does he become an NBA super-sub? I think so. I kind of envision Malik Monk coming off the bench for the majority of his career, and probably winning a few NBA Sixth Man of the Year awards along the way. He is so skilled; Monk would be able to feast on opposing team’s 2nd units, and defensively, he wouldn’t be exposed as badly on a nightly basis.

Undersized combo-guards who can score have hung around the NBA for many years. Guys like Bobby Jackson, John Starks, Ben Gordon, Jason Terry, Lou Williams; they’re all former and current well-accomplished scoring assassins off the bench. And I think, mostly due to his athleticism, that Monk can have an even better career than those guys. But that’s at least the neighborhood (for me) that Monk will find himself in. Is that enough of a ceiling to justify a team like the Magic taking him in the lottery. Due to guys like Evan Fournier, Terrence Ross, and (to a lesser extent) Mario Hezonja already on the roster, I think Orlando would probably pass on Monk. But who knows; if a new regime were to come in and clean house, maybe they would go with a guy like Monk and look to move some of the other aforementioned SG’s.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Arizona vs North Dakota Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Lauri Markkanen, Arizona - 19 years old
7-0, 225 lbs - PF

Let me make this clear before I give my critique of Lauri Markkanen; he can flat-out shoot, there’s absolutely no denying that. In fact, you could make a strong argument that Markkanen is the best shooter 7-feet or taller in NCAA history (led Pac-12 in FT%, 3rd in eFG%, 5th in TS% at 64%, led the PAC-12 in OWS, WS, and ORtg, 3rd in Offensive +/-). I also noticed on multiple occasions throughout this past season Arizona going through stretches at a time within a game where they completely forget about Markkanen; the Wildcats operate with multiple guards on the floor at one time, but no true point guard to help facilitate and get easy looks for Lauri.

With that being said, I worry considerably about Markkanen in the NBA. To be more precise, I worry for a team that would select Markkanen with a top-ten pick. I would bite on Markkanen’s potential in the mid to late First round, but not in the lottery. I just think he’s way too one-dimensional at this point of his development to justify a pick in 2017 as high as he’s being projected. But he’s 7-0 and he shoot’s 43% from “3”, someone in the lottery will surely bite. Markkanen shot less than 55% on 2PA’s this season, and he only managed to get to the free-throw line about four times a game. Not ideal for a seven-footer playing against inferior competition. Markkanen is not an offensive threat in the low-post to date, he’s far from a prolific rebounder (probably due to the fact that he plays on the perimeter so much, six double-digit rebounding performances), and he lacks the needed weight/strength to compete at an NBA-level defensively against other NBA bigs.

But he can shoot. He shoots with ease, and he shoots with volume (157 3PA’s, over 40% of his FGA’s come from behind the arc). Markkanen’s form and release are a thing of beauty, and his 7-0 frame (high-release point) helps contribute to the fact that he can get his shot off nearly anywhere in the half-court without the threat of it getting blocked.

Markkanen will most likely still be on the board when Orlando makes their selection during this year’s draft. Having a stretch-4 guy on the roster to balance what Aaron Gordon provides wouldn’t be a bad idea, but I still don’t think Markkanen provides enough to justify a pick as high as where the Magic will be picking.

De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky - 19 years old
6-4, 170 lbs - PG

De’Aaron is an odd point-guard prospect. In years past, when shooting from the outside wasn’t a skill that teams primarily looked for in a lead-guard prospect, Fox would probably be in the conversation for a Top-5 pick (or higher). He possesses exceptional length for a point guard (8-4 standing reach, 6-6 wingspan). But the NBA game has evolved, and it’s more difficult now to project the value a guy like Fox can bring to an NBA team considering his struggles shooting the college “3”. To be completely fair, he’s not even 20 years of age yet. I realize that guys can improve their craft. But as we (as Magic fans) know all too well, the question remains - would it be enough improvement to justify such a high lottery selection because the bar is already set so low (0.6 3PM’s per/40, 24%)?

De’Aaron Fox is pretty poised for a freshmen who’s had the ball in his hands quite frequently, the 14.5% Turnover Rate he posted this season is pretty respectable (6.5 assists per/40). And you can’t argue that Fox wasn’t tested throughout the year, he was thrown into the fire and forced to match-up against the top guards in the country on a regular basis (Kentucky played Michigan St., UCLA, UNC, Louisville, and Kansas in their non-conference schedule). In an early season dream match-up, Fox was able to contain Lonzo Ball pretty admirably, and posted a 20/9 line himself. Fox and Ball will square-off again in a marquee-matchup Friday night.

I think Fox is a much better player at 19 years of age than Elfrid Payton was in college, even after three collegiate seasons. But there’s no denying that Fox on Orlando’s roster would be pretty redundant. If the Magic were to draft Fox, and perhaps move Payton, how much better would Fox be than their former point guard anyway? Fox’s frame concerns me. He’s rail thin at 170 pounds; I know he has time to gain weight/muscle, but it will be ugly for a few seasons in the meantime. If the Magic choose to upgrade their point guard depth through this year’s draft, they will do so by picking Ball, Fultz, or even Smith Jr. If those players are off the board next June, and Orlando needs to make a selection, I feel they would go with a gadget forward like Jayson Tatum, Josh Jackson, or even Jonathan Isaac before picking De’Aaron Fox.

Josh Jackson, Kansas - 20 years old
6-8, 205 lbs - SF

Maybe it’s just been laziness on my part, but all year as I’ve watched Josh Jackson play, I can’t help but think of Andrew Wiggins. Both young men came to Lawrence at the top of their respective class rankings by most reputable recruiting sites, both played the Small Forward position. Both young men had hugely successful freshmen campaigns that led to Freshmen of the Year honors in the Big-12. You could make the argument that Wiggins had a lot more talent around him while at Kansas (Embiid, Ellis, Selden, etc.) than Jackson does at the moment, but that’s splitting hairs. These guys are just similar.

Or are they? Taking a closer look at their production in their respective freshmen seasons would lead one to believe - not really. Jackson has been a more efficient player this season than Wiggins was (Jackson posted a PER of 24.2 with an eFG% of 56%, Wiggins posted a PER of 21 with an eFG% of 50%). Defensive metrics such as Defensive +/- and DRtg suggest that Jackson has been a slightly stronger defensive player this year than Wiggins was in ‘13-’14 as well.

My favorite thing about Jackson’s game is his above-average ability to pass the basketball for someone playing the forward position, in that sense he’s very different than an Andrew Wiggins. Jackson averaged 4 assists per/40 this season and dished out five or more assists on six different occasions this season. Not bad for a Small Forward, but his turnover rate (15.7%) needs to be improved for good measure.

I wonder about Jackson though; what will he excel at in the NBA? Going back to Wiggins, he took more 3’s and got to the free-throw line more frequently (in college) than Jackson did this past season. Will Jackson be able to be just as efficient and effective inside the arc at the next level when he won’t be able to overmatch smaller defenders like he does in college? He’s been very successful this season making 3PA’s (38.5%), in the NBA he will need to cut down on the long two’s and extend his range a bit. His 55% clip from the free-throw line this season is a bit strange, something to surely think about.

I can’t put my finger on Jackson’s ceiling in the NBA. Yes, he’s been better this year than one of his predecessors. But quite frankly, Andrew Wiggins isn’t the same player today that he was at 19 years of age either. I like Jackson a lot; I think he will be able to defend a little bit, rebound well for his position, move the ball well within the offense, and score with efficiency. But is there anything that he will develop and provide that will be prolific? Can Josh Jackson become an all-star? I think Orlando will have to answer that question when they find themselves on the clock. If Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz are already off the board, will the Magic pick a guy who could be the best player available (such as a Jackson or Tatum), or will they go for a perceived position of need (Smith Jr., Fox, etc.)?

Lonzo Ball, UCLA - 19 years old
6-5, 190 lbs - PG

First of all, I feel I need to do a bit of myth busting when it comes to Lonzo Ball; he is not Jason Kidd. I get it, both Kidd and Ball are California High School legends. They’re both big guards with big games, and they both took their talents to PAC-12 schools. Lonzo Ball won’t stick around for his sophomore season like Kidd did, but I understand how his aptitude to run a college offense at a high-level while racking up a prolific numbers of assists can cause basketball fans to be reminded of the former Golden Bear.

Maybe basketball pundits should clarify that Lonzo Ball is comparable to an offensive Jason Kidd. For me, what essentially made Jason Kidd an all-time great was his defensive ability. Jason Kidd was one of the best defensive lead guards of all-time, and he possessed an elite ability to live in the opposing team’s passing lanes. From what I’ve seen thus far, Lonzo Ball is passable at best on the defensive end. It’s probably not ability that he lacks, but possibly the defensive want to (certainly compared to Jason Kidd). Let me just put this out there: Jason Kidd’s freshmen season at Cal, he averaged 4.8 steals per/40. That’s crazy. No knock on Lonzo Ball, but he is not Jason Kidd.

And to be fair, no knock on Jason Kidd, but he was never Lonzo Ball. Ball is light years ahead of where Kidd was at 19 years of age shooting the basketball. Kidd shot 33% from behind the arc over two seasons at Cal (28% his freshmen year, 36% his sophomore year, 1.3 3PM per/g) while posting an overall TS% of 56%. Lonzo Ball (to date) has connected on over 42% of his attempts from long distance (2.3 3PM per/g), over 55% of his field goals overall, and has posted a TS% of nearly 68%. When Kidd was not facilitating, he was more likely to get to the FT-line; when Ball is not giving it up, he’s a lot more likely to let it fly from deep.

And speaking of letting it fly from deep, that brings me to another myth about Ball that needs to be busted. His shot is not broken (clearly from those numbers) and he (probably) doesn’t care what you think about his form. Ball’s stroke is just fine. Lonzo’s rather unorthodox shooting stroke, where he begins his shot taking the ball from his left hip, seems to work for the young guard. Ball’s release of the basketball and finish end up right where they both need to be, and his superior height and lift on his shot contributes to his jumper not getting blocked by the defender. I have no worries about Ball’s shot at the next level.

I believe Ball is about as can’t miss as it gets. Playing with skilled college players all over the court at UCLA, Ball has shown that he can impact the game in a multitude of ways without scoring a prolific amount of points. I think that’s huge as far as his NBA future is concerned. He distributes the ball, he takes care of the basketball, he shoots the ball with efficiency. Ball can run, he can jump at an above-average NBA level. If I had to nitpick, I would say his potential lack of strength early in his career combined with his lack of superior defensive ability may cause him some problems, but nothing that would cause me to draft anyone else. If I was put in charge of making Orlando’s lottery selection this June, I would have Lonzo Ball #1 on my board.

Honorable Mention - Bronson Koenig (Wisconsin), Nigel Hayes (Wisconsin), P.J. Dozier (South Carolina), Trevon Bluiett (Xavier), Frank Mason III (Kansas), Devonte Graham (Kansas), Tyler Dorsey (Oregon), Moritz Wagner (Michigan), Rawle Alkins (Arizona), Kennedy Meeks (UNC)

*Credit to Basketball Reference and Draft Express for data used in this article