T.J. Leaf

NBA Power Rankings: Preseason rankings for every team from Warriors to Bulls

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They’re back. The weekly NBA Power Rankings from NBC Sports have returned as the NBA season tips off. As always the defending champions start on top — and in the case of the Warriors, the question is will there be more than one week they are not ranked No. 1 this season? These first rankings are pure gut, with a little preseason influence thrown in (once we move 15+ games into the season we have a mathematical system to help guide us, then those figures get massaged by the eye test.

Quick note, these rankings come out on Tuesday to start the season, but starting next week and throughout the NBA season they will come out on Wednesday.

Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (last season 67-15). Thanks in part to Kevin Durant’s willingness to sacrifice for the team, Golden State not just brought back but also improved the best team in the NBA. They are going to spend a lot of weeks on top of these rankings. The only question to open the season is does the hangover/jet lag from the China trip still impact them the first couple weeks of the season.

Rockets small icon 2. Rockets (55-27). Adding Chris Paul to the James Harden show was a brilliant move, the Rockets will have one of the top three offenses in the NBA this season. However, what may really get this to the conference Finals is the additions of defenders such as Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker on the wing. They Rockets outscored teams by 21.9 points per 100 possessions in the preseason, an NBA best number (don’t read much into it, but it’s interesting).

Thunder small icon 3. Thunder (47-35).. I think they may be second in this ranking by the end of the season, I like their defense (which should be Top 5), but I’m going to need to see Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony do more than just talk about sacrifices to fully buy in (they looked good together in limited preseason minutes). With Westbrook committed to OKC, George will be asked about his free agency at every turn this season, how will he handle that pressure?

Cavaliers small icon 4. Cavaliers (51-31). By the end of the season I think they will be the team best positioned to knock off Golden State — Isaiah Thomas will be healthy (*knocking on wood*), the Cavs still have LeBron James, and they will get to come out of a soft East while the Warriors will have to battle their way out of a deep West. That said, they are not healthy now and will be experimenting with Kevin Love at center.

Spurs small icon 5. Spurs (61-21). No Kawhi Leonard in the opener and the question is now much more time will he miss with a lingering quad injury. While the Spurs looked like a mess in the playoffs without Leonard that was against the Warriors, in the regular season they are 14-4 the past two seasons with him sitting. LaMarcus Aldridge is the go-to guy while Leonard is out and he can handle the role.

Celtics small icon 6. Celtics (53-29). It’s going to be a circus — one with lots of boos — with Kyrie Irving and company opening on the road in Cleveland. No Marcus Morris the first week of the season with a knee injury, that means rookie Jayson Tatum likely gets the starts. That could add to the one big question about the Celtics — can they get enough stops?

Wizards small icon 7. Wizards (49-33). The Wizards looked good and their bench improved during the preseason, which is a nice sign but now they have to do it when it matters. That bench will be tested more early with Markieff Morris missing time due to a sports hernia (the Wizards lost very little time from their starters due to injury last season, that has changed already).

Raptors small icon 8. Raptors (51-31). The Raptors are trying to change who they are on offense, with less isolation and more threes — and it worked in the preseason, they scored 110.1 points per 100 possessions. Can they sustain that when the defenses get serious? And how much will they miss the depth that DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph, and Patrick Patterson provided?

timberwolves small icon 9. Timberwolves (31-51). They added Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague Taj Gibson, and Jamal Crawford to an already promising young team led by Karl-Anthony Towns — Minnesota is ready to make a leap. Well, if they can defend. They were 27th in defensive rating last season, and they need to get up to the middle of the NBA pack at least. Butler helps, but it’s Towns and Andrew Wiggins learning what to do and putting in the effort night in and night out that will make the biggest difference on that end.

Bucks small icon 10. Bucks (42-40). Is this too high a ranking for the Bucks? Maybe. I am betting on a lot of internal improvement with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Thon Maker, Kris Middleton, and Malcolm Brogdon. However, the real key to the Bucks season is if Jason Kidd tweaks his gambling defensive system so the Bucks don’t get torched every time the ball swings sides, do that and this team can move into East’s top four.

Nuggets small icon 11. Nuggets (40-42). Denver looked good this preseason in the minutes that both Nicola Jokic and Paul Millsap shared the floor, but the questions are everyone around them. Gary Harris needs to live up to his lofty new contract, and Jamal Murray needs to start looking like the point guard the Nuggets thought they had at the end of last season. Also, is Denver going to defend well enough to make the playoffs?

Clippers small icon 12. Clippers (51-31). Talk about a changed roster, new to the Clippers are Danilo Gallinari, Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Willie Reed, Sam Dekker, and Montrezl Harrell. Everything still flows through Blake Griffin, and his three-point shot looks improved. The Clippers should be solid on both ends and play faster than they did in the Chris Paul era. This is a playoff team if they can stay healthy, but with this roster it’s a big if (they had their share of minor injuries in the preseason).

Blazers small icon 13. Trail Blazers (41-41). It’s just the preseason, but the facts that Portland went 5-0 and Evan Turner found his shooting stroke are both good signs. C.J. McCollum is suspended for the opener (you can’t leave the bench during an altercation, this isn’t a new rule) so look for Pat Connaughton to get the start.

Grizzlies small icon 14. Grizzlies (43-39). The Grizzlies are trying to change their style of play — they played at the fourth fastest pace of any team in the preseason (they were 19th overall in the NBA last season, which was up from previous years). We’ll see if the pace sticks. We’ll see how much the Grizzlies can get out of Chandler Parsons as well (he averaged 14 minutes a game and shot 33 percent in the preseason).

Heat small icon 15. Heat (41-41, LW 15). Erik Spoelstra will spend the first part of the season figuring out his rotations (Kelly Olynyk is starting now, James Johnson is coming off the bench), and he needs more of Goran Dragic than the two preseason games he played, but this is a deeper team that should get off to a faster start than last season (but not close the season as fast, either).

Jazz small icon 16. Jazz (51-31, LW 7). Utah went 5-0 in the preseason and its offense was the fifth most efficient in the NBA. That’s not going to last, but it’s a good sign that maybe the offense will be somewhat better than projected with Rodney Hood as the playmaker. The defense will be elite with DPOY candidate Rudy Gobert.

Pelicans small icon 17. Pelicans (34-48). They have their big two — DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis — plus Jrue Holiday at the point, but the supporting cast is already banged up. Rajon Rondo will miss time with a sports hernia, and Solomon Hill may miss the entire season with a torn hamstring. This team remains one of the big question marks heading into the season, but if it goes sideways things could get ugly fast.

Sixers small icon 18. 76ers (28-54). Joel Embiid will start the season on a minutes restriction — Brett Brown said in the teens — and the big man doesn’t like it. Expect the Sixers to be cautious with him all season, we’ll see if he even gets to 55 games. My big question is how good the defense is with him off the court? After a strong preseason, Ben Simmons has moved to the top off everyone’s Rookie of the Year award prediction list.

Hornets small icon 19. Hornets (36-46). The Nicolas Batum injury to start the season is a blow. First, they were already thin on the wing and needed his defense, and second the Hornets toughest stretch of the schedule is the first month, so they could get in a hole that’s tough to dig out of. No Batum means rookie Malik Monk gets more run. A lot of people will tune in to see the Dwight Howard redemption project version 3.0, but stay to watch Kemba Walker — he is one of the most entertaining players to watch in the NBA.

Pistons small icon 20. Pistons (37-45. . How did the Pistons’ starting five look in the preseason? Don’t know, they didn’t play a minute together. What we do know is Reggie Jackson — the lynchpin for this team’s playoff chances this season — struggled, like he did much of last season. One thing of note, Andre Drummond was 16-of-20 on free throws in the preseason, if he is knocking those down he just got a lot more dangerous at the end of games.

Mavericks small icon 21. Mavericks (33-49). We need to savor having another season of Dirk Nowitzki in the NBA, he remains an all-time great. This season is about developing Dennis Smith Jr. and have him develop chemistry with Harrison Barnes (who was underrated as an isolation scorer last season but now needs to learn to be a playmaker. The Mavericks start out with a tough schedule the first couple of months that puts them in a hole they can’t dig out of.

Lakers small icon 22. Lakers (26-56, LW 29). It’s the Lonzo Ball show in Los Angeles, as he brings a buzz on and off the court to this team. Well, unless Kyle Kuzma steals the show again (the Lakers are overloaded at the four thanks to him). Ball will get a boost playing with Brook Lopez on offense. The bigger concern is Brandon Ingram, who shot 37.7 percent in preseason (25 percent from three) and likes to face up in isolation but doesn’t execute that well yet.

Kings small icon 23. Kings (32-50). So much to watch development wise with this team. How does De’Aaron Fox come along running the offense (he will come off the bench behind George Hill to start the season)? Can Skal Labissiere and Willie Cauley-Stein form an impressive front line? Is Buddy Hield going to be a starting two guard in the NBA or is he a future gunner sixth man? Also, how will coach Dave Joerger balance minutes for the young players and the veterans on his roster such as Zach Randolph?

Magic small icon 24. Magic (29-53). This may be too low for the Magic, who have a lot of talent on paper. Aaron Gordon is back at the four, where he should be, and he looked good this preseason. Jonathon Simmons also looked good and helped the team’s defense this preseason. The pieces still are an odd fit on this team, but Frank Vogel is trying to find rotations that work.

Knicks small icon 25. Knicks (31-51 LW 26). Carmelo Anthony is gone but the Knicks biggest problem persists — this is going to be a bad defensive team. With the full triangle offense having been exiled with Phil Jackson, coach Jeff Hornacek wants to run, but to run well a team has to get stops. Is Kristaps Porzingis ready for the load about to be put on his shoulders?

Pacers small icon 26. Pacers (42-40, LW 16). This is Myles Turner’s team now, but he will miss having Glenn Robinson III’s floor spacing around him (Robinson’s ankle injury has him out until 2018). On the bright side T.J. Leaf looked better in preseason than he did in Summer League, he will get some run. This team will put the ball in Lance Stephenson’s hands, which is always entertaining.

Nets small icon 27. Nets (20-62). They have an interesting backcourt with Jeremy Lin — the undrafted guard who has worked hard on his game and scrapped his way to a solid NBA career — and D’Angelo Russell, the No. 2 pick whose work ethic frustrated the Lakers and they were willing to move on from (he was the sweetener in dumping Timofey Mozgov’s salary). Soft start to the schedule gives them the chance at a decent start.

Hawks small icon 28. Hawks (43-39). It’s all about Dennis Schroder and Kent Bazemore creating shots and Mike Budenholzer’s team playing solid defense. This is a rebuilding team (Al Horford and Paul Millsap left in successive summers) and their string of making the playoffs 10 years in a row will end, but they should play hard and be in games, just not able to close them out. They start the season with a five-game road trip.

Suns small icon 29. Suns (24-58). They have some interesting young talent in Phoenix with Devin Booker and now rookie Josh Jackson (14 points per game and shot 42 percent from three in the preseason). With Eric Bledsoe running the point the Suns should be able to put up some points, but will the young team get enough stops?

Bulls small icon 30. Bulls (41-41, LW 13). Chicago has finally, fully embraced the rebuild. Lauri Markkanen will be the guy to watch this season, he was up-and-down during preseason (1-of-9 in debut, good game against Toronto to close it out) but how does he develop over the course of the season. Rough first week of the season with the Raptors, Spurs, and Cavaliers.

Paul George trade just the start of a pathetic Pacers offseason

Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
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The Pacers would have been better next season if they just kept Paul George.

They also might have been better in 2019-20.

Indiana got a head start on 2018-19 and little else this offseason.

George said he planned to leave in 2018 free agency, so dealing him was certainly reasonable. But for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis? That paltry return sent shockwaves beyond just scorned Cleveland.

It’ll be tough for Oladipo to provide surplus value as he makes $84 million over the next four years. Sabonis is as pedestrian as a second-year lottery pick can get.

The Pacers also lost Jeff Teague and C.J. Miles in free agency and waived – and stretched! (more on that later) – Monta Ellis, three players who started in the playoffs last season. Their replacements: Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison and Cory Joseph.

Bogdanovic ($1.5 million of $10.5 million) and Collison ($2 million of $10 million) have small guarantees for 2018-19. So does returning center Al Jefferson ($4 million of $10 million). Essentially, Indiana will keep those players if they have value at those salaries or clear cap space otherwise.

Though Miles, essentially acquired for free in a trade with the Raptors, has a $7,945,000 player option for 2018-19, the Pacers will have his Bird Rights.

This is shaping up to be a 30-something-win team, where the “something” will determine whether Indiana sneaks into the playoffs in a down Eastern Conference or picks in the low lottery. Though not stuck in that position with several long-term contracts, it’s still a lousy place to be even for a season or two.

The Pacers might have felt George’s declared plan to depart sent them down this path, but it didn’t have to.

If they kept George, one of two things would have happened:

  • He’d re-sign. Despite his insistence that he was leaving, he could have always reversed course. If he made an All-NBA team this season, he would have been eligible for a super-max contract. Indiana could have dared him to turn that down.
  • He’d leave. The Pacers probably still would have been in better long-term shape than they are now. Though I’m high on Myles Turner, they probably could have tanked around him in his fourth year and launched a proper rebuild.

Either way, Indiana would have been better in the interim. The Pacers wouldn’t have been postseason locks with George this season, but they would have been more likely than this rag-tag bunch. They also could have cut bait on George and dealt him before the trade deadline – likely for more than they got this summer.

Indiana just doesn’t want to slip too far, though. That’ll pay off next summer, when the Pacers have Oladipo and Sabonis locked up, team control over Bogdanovic and Collison in unguaranteed salaries and Bird Rights for Joseph if he opts out.

Starting after the lopsided George trade, this wasn’t bad execution of the plan. It’s just a bad plan.

Striving for mediocrity with established veterans just inhibits meaningful growth. That’s especially evident with stretching Ellis, who will count $2,245,400 against the cap through 2022.

The Pacers cleared nearly $9 million in cap space with the move, but their guaranteed salaries still land about $7.5 million below the salary cap, and the $4,328,000 room exception remains unused. Though the cap space and room exception can’t be combined, the space created by stretching Ellis didn’t go to great use. If Indiana offered Bogdanovic and/or Collison just $1 million or so less, they wouldn’t have signed? It would have been better to play hardball with those free agents and lose one than to stretch Ellis.

Indiana isn’t going anywhere significant this season, anyway. The right move was paying Ellis his entire $11,227,000 this season and getting it over with.

The Pacers aren’t completely bereft of young talent. Turner, a stretch center with impressive defensive potential, is now their franchise player. Oladipo is just 25. Draft picks T.J. Leaf (No. 18), Ike Anigbogu (No. 47) and Edmond Sumner (No. 52) are all fine.

But Indiana lost George, its most valuable asset, without getting a single draft pick or high-end young player. Now, the Pacers are just headed toward a couple uninspiring years before inevitably undergoing the rebuild they could have gotten a head start on this summer or next.

Offseason grade: F

2017 NBA Draft pick-by-pick tracker with analysis of each move

Associated Press
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Already the 2017 NBA Draft has been crazy — the No. 1 pick was traded for only the seventh time in NBA history. The No. 2 pick from a couple years ago has already been moved to make way for the next No. 2 pick coming to Los Angeles.

Now it is likely to get even wilder.

This is the best place to follow all of it. Just keep hitting refresh all night.

We will constantly be updating this post throughout the course of the night — it will be live with a quick analysis of every pick and how they fit in with the team that took them. We’ll also be on top of trades and everything else happening around the NBA tonight. About the only thing we know is what’s happening now with the No. 1 pick, so let’s put the Sixers on the clock.

 
Sixers small icon 1. Philadelphia 76ers: Markelle Fultz, 6’4” point guard (Washington). The Sixers hope they have their big three rounded out with Fultz. One scout I trust told me this was a one-player draft at the top — Fultz was clear and away the best guy available. What doesn’t he do well offensively? He can score off the pick-and-roll from all three levels: He makes threes, can hit mid-range pull-ups, or attack and finish above the rim. He can make plays in transition, makes good decisions off the pick-and-roll, uses both hands, and had great body control and footwork. The concerns are he can be passive, lets the game come to him a little too much, and can be a lazy defender (despite elite physical tools). Stlll, he was the clear No. 1 for a reason.

 
Lakers small icon 2. Los Angeles Lakers: Lonzo Ball, 6’6” point guard (UCLA). You can’t teach his court vision and passing skills, which remind one of a LeBron/Ricky Rubio level of passer. With those skills, he is amazing in the open court. Yes, his shot is awkward (because of it he can’t pull up going to his right well), but in catch-and-shoots the ball goes in. Concerns about his shot – and his father — are overblown. The real questions are how he defends at the next level (he was disinterested for long stretches in college), and can he create in the halfcourt (he didn’t do a lot of pick-and-rolls, and on them 75 percent of his drives ended with a pass, he has to be more of a scoring threat).

WE HAVE A TRADE: The Chicago Bulls are sending Jimmy Butler to play with his old coach Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota.

Minnesota gets Butler plus the 16th pick in this draft in exchange for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and the No. 7 pick in this draft. That is a great deal for Minnesota. They now can start Ricky Rubio, Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, and they look like a playoff team.

 
Celtics small icon 3. Boston Celtics: Jayson Tatum, 6’8” forward (Duke). Maybe the player most ready to contribute offensively immediately in this draft, Tatum is a fantastic isolation scorer. He has a diverse offensive skill set, and he blew by bigger defenders in college with a strong face-up game, but will that translate to the NBA where everyone is more athletic? Can he score against NBA wings? His perimeter shot is improved but needs to get better still. He also was not a consistent defender in college, he needs to be much better now, especially if he wants to play much for Brad Stevens. Still, this guy can help right now, which is good for Boston.

 
Suns small icon4. Phoenix Suns: Josh Jackson, 6’8” forward (Kansas). Physically, and with his explosiveness, he reminds one a little of Andrew Wiggins — and Jackson has the same issue of a very inconsistent shot. Effort is a skill and one Jackson has plenty of, he outworks everyone, and could become and elite wing defender in the NBA. He had success offensively in college overwhelming opponents as a small-ball four, and he works well off the ball with cuts or getting out in transition. While his shot found a groove late in the season he needs more consistent mechanics, that shot needs work. Plenty of scouts think he has one of highest potential ceiling in this class.

 
Kings small icon 5. Sacramento Kings: De’Aaron Fox, 6’4” point guard (Kentucky). Kings’ fans, check out our feature on Fox to learn more about him. He climbed draft boards through the season and more once he got to workouts. Fox is incredibly fast with and without the ball — elite NBA level fast, and that makes him dangerous, particularly in transition. He’s a good (not great) passer, but his shot needs work (reports from workouts are that it is improving). He is a good defender (just ask Lonzo Ball) with the potential to be great. He needs to get stronger, and he needs to polish his offensive game, particularly running the pick-and-roll.

 
Magic small icon 6. Orlando Magic: Jonathan Isaac, 6’11” forward (Florida State). One of the highest ceilings in this draft — if he can be developed. He can hit threes, but is very raw and needs confidence on that end. Maybe of more interest to the Magic, his floor is pretty high thanks to his defense — he had a 25% defensive rebound percentage, a 2.4 percent steal rate, and a 6 percent block percentage, only done by Anthony Davis, Andre Roberson, Dewayne Dedmon, and Aaric Murray since 09-10 (stat via Sam Vecenie). He’s a project but could be a key part of the future new management in Orlando is trying to build.

 
Bulls small icon 7. Chicago Bulls (via Minnesota in Butler trade): Lauri Markkanen, 7’0” power forward/center (Arizona). The Bulls need shooting and they get it here. Markkanen is a stretch 4/5 who shot 42.3 percent from three — and not just spot-ups. He can come off screens, is dangerous in pick-n-pops, and can just generally shoot the rock. He needs to get stronger, and become a much better rebounder and defender. If he doesn’t, he’s kind of a Ryan Anderson type. Is only third player from Finland ever to make NBA.

 
Knicks small icon 8. New York Knicks: Frank Ntilikina, 6’5” point guard (France). He’s a big point guard with length, and in international tournaments he has been a defensive force. That caught scouts’ eyes, but so did his ability to run the team. He has shown development on the offensive end with an improved jumper. His game needs polish, and there are questions about his ceiling, but with his size and defense his floor is higher than some others in this draft range. We’ll see how he fits in the triangle, but he’s a high IQ player.

 
Mavericks small icon 9. Dallas Mavericks: Dennis Smith Jr., 6’3” point guard (North Carolina State). Dallas needed a point guard and they may have the one of the fututre. He had an inconsistent season, but the good news is he didn’t lose any athleticism from the ACL injury a couple of years back. He’s a powerful and explosive scorer, he’s talented in open floor, an impressive playmaker, and on paper has all the skills you want at the point. However, his decision making is very inconsistent — he chooses passes poorly, picks up his dribble at poor times — plus he’s got to be much better defensively.

WE HAVE A TRADE: Sacramento is rebuilding and wants to restock, Portland needs a big who can space the floor behind (and next to maybe) Jusuf Nurkic, so we have a trade.

 
Blazers small icon 10. Portland Trail Blazers (from Sacramento via trade): Zach Collins, 7’0” forward/center (Gonzaga). Few climbed the draft board more in the past month than Collins. Big men who can space the floor are in demand, and he shot 45 percent from three this season. He also was fantastic against elite players in the NCAA Final Four, which helped his cause. He’s got to get stronger to be able to handle NBA players on the defensive end. Also, he’s not athletic or fleet of foot, so if teams can draw him defensively out on the perimeter it’s an issue. Still, big men who can shoot the rock are the way the league is going and he can do it.

 
Hornets small icon 11. Charlotte Hornets: Malik Monk, 6’3” shooting guard (Kentucky). While he can be streaky, he’s an insane scorer and athlete who can fill it up like nobody else in this draft. How he will fit off the ball with Kemba Walker is a question mark (especially defensively, but he can get them buckets. The question is can he do anything other than score? He’s not been much of a defender (and he’s a bit small for an NBA two guard), he’s not a shot creator for others, nor does he rebound much. He’s kind of a scoring, volume-shooting sixth man kind of guy, think Jamal Crawford or Lou Williams.

 
Pistons small icon 12. Detroit Pistons: Luke Kennard, 6’6” shooting guard (Duke). Maybe the best pure shooter in this draft. More than just spot up, he can read screens, he’s got excellent footwork and jab series, and he’s better on the P’n’R than people realize. He’s not a great athlete so there are questions about his ability to create space for his shot. However, the bigger questions are about his defense and ability to hang with two guards at the next level (he’s not a great athlete, nor is he long).

WE HAVE A TRADE: Denver has traded the No. 13 pick the Utah Jazz

 
Jazz small icon 13. Utah Jazz (from Denver via trade): Donovan Mitchell, 6’3” shooting guard (Louisville). He’s a bit time athlete, with a 6’10” wingspan, and with all that he defends very well. That should get him run as a rookie. He has improved as a play maker, but what is his role — he was at his best last season when the Louisville PG was out injured and Mitchell had the ball in his hands. His decision making and shooting need to get far more consistent.

 
Heat small icon 14. Miami Heat: Bam Adebayo, 6’10” center (Kentucky). He’s a little small for an NBA center, but he’s physically strong enough to hold his own in the post. Defensively he’s not much of a rim protector, but if you drag him out into a pick-and-roll he can switch and defend guards well. Very limited offensive game, it’s all dunks that he gets in transition or on offensive rebounds, he’s improved on the glass and is solid there now.

 
Kings small icon 15. Sacramento Kings (via trade with Portland): Justin Jackson, 6’8” small forward (North Carolina). An All-American wing with an all-around game — including drawing some of the toughest defensive assignments for the Tar Heels. He can shoot the three, hits from the midrange, is good on the catch-and-shoot now, and has as impressive a floater as you will see. The concerns at the next level are he needs to get stronger, plus he’s not a great pick-and-roll ball handler.

 
timberwolves small icon 16. Minnesota Timberwolves (via trade with Chicago): Justin Patton, 7’0” center (Creighton). He’s got good tools — he’s a fantastic aathlete for his size and can rim run with the best — but is a project. He put up good offensive numbers but can’t create for himself, so when Creighton lost its point guard his production took a hit. The big questions are about toughness — will he play through contact? Will he be a physical defender? Plenty of potential but plenty of work to do.

 
Bucks small icon 17. Milwaukee Bucks: D.J. Wilson, 6’10” power forward (Michigan). He had flashes last season that make him an intriguing prospect as a stretch-four. He has the size and perimeter skills, was a fantastic finisher around the basket, but was a late bloomer who battled injuries, so it can be hard to read his potential. He’s not physical and with that, not much of a rebounder. He’s going to have to show more toughness to thrive at the next level.

 
Pacers small icon 18. Indiana Pacers:. T.J. Leaf, 6’10” power forward (UCLA). A fluid athlete who excelled in transition (and thrived with Lonzo Ball’s passing), he will thrive with an up-tempo team. He also shot 46.6% from three, but didn’t take many, still he could develop into a stretch four. The questions are will he grow his game to work in a half-court offense, and how he will defend (he’s not quick laterally, nor is he physical)? He’s not a bad rebounder. Could thrive with a running second unit while he develops.

 
Hawks small icon 19. Atlanta Hawks: John Collins, 6’10” power forward (Wake Forest). He is a young sophomore, which is good because it means he can develop — and he needs to. He’s become an extremely efficient offensive weapon — 67% true shooting percentage, highest PER in college — who is fantastic in the post, but can he pass? He pulled down defensive rebounds, but he’s not long and scouts question if he is a defensive playmaker. He didn’t seem to have much feel for the game on that side of the ball (which often led to foul trouble).

 
Kings small icon 20. Sacramento Kings (via trade with Portland): Harry Giles, 6’11’ center (Duke). He was the highest-ranked freshman in his class, then the injuries hit — ACL, MCL and Meniscus tears in his left knee that have required a couple of surgeries, plus another surgery on his right knee. Is he broken now? Or, because of all the missed time did that just set back his skill development, confidence, and understanding of where to be on the court (particularly on defense). Find his old physical self, then restore his confidence, and this could be the steal of the draft. But he may never be the same again.

 
Thunder small icon 21. Oklahoma City Thunder: Terrance Ferguson, 6’7” shooting guard (born in US, played last season in Australia). He’s an athletic wing player who decided to get paid to play overseas rather than play college ball stateside. He was a very good shooter, particularly spot up, in high school, but he struggled a little with that overseas (31.3% from three last year). That said he was handed a big role in a league with men and played well. His ball handling has to improve, and he needs to get stronger, and he needs to be more consistent on defense.

 
Nets small icon 22. Brooklyn Nets: Jarrett Allen, 6’11” center (Texas). With Brook Lopez traded, Allen is going to get some run. If you like tall, wildly athletic but incredibly raw big men, Allen is your guy. He may be the definition of project big. He has all the physical tools to be a Clint Capela kind of player, but does he love basketball enough to put in the work and get there? It’s a little hard to read his college production numbers because he was paired with another non-shooting big on a team without the ability to space the floor. Still, he could rim run in transition, and develop into a good pick-and-roll big.

 
Raptors small icon 23. Toronto Raptors: O.G. Anunoby, 6’8” forward (Indiana). On paper he’s everything NBA teams look for in big wings: Can play the 3 or 4, is an elite level defender (when focused), he can make threes (when given time to set his feet), and he’s super athletic. Maybe he develops into a Trevor Ariza type. The questions start with how he comes off an ACL injury. His jumper needs to be more consistent, he hit threes (36% in college) but shot 52% from the free throw line, which is a concern. The other big question is how hard he plays night in and night out — it wasn’t consistent in college.

 
Nuggets small icon 24. Denver Nuggets (via trade with Utah Jazz): Tyler Lydon, 6’10 forward (Syracuse). He shot 39.2% from three last season, so the logical conclusion is he should be a stretch four in the NBA. He can also run the floor in transition, and post up smaller defenders, but his jumper is his best weapon. The problem is he’s not particularly long nor particularly athletic for an NBA stretch four. There are questions about his defense, particularly coming out of the Syracuse zone. Scouts were really divided on Lydon and if his game translates.

WE HAVE A TRADE: Philadephia jumps back into the first round to get a quality big man who could back up Joel Embiid.

 
Sixers small icon 25. Philadelphia 76ers (via trade with Orlando): Anzejs Pasecniks, 7’2” center (Latvia). Just because he’s a 7’2” center from Latvia, don’t think he’s the next Kristaps Porzingis. That said, he’s good. Pasecniks played well and was very efficient last season in Spain, the second best league in the world. He moves well for a big man which makes him dangerous as the roll man. He’s got work to do on his outside shot, but there is potential there. He’s a bit raw but this could be steal this low if he develops.

 
Blazers small icon 26. Portland Trail Blazers: Caleb Swanigan, 6’9” power forward/center (Purdue). He transformed his body losing more than 100 pounds, and with that transformed himself into an NBA prospect. He’s strong and bullied people in the post on offense, plus he shot 44.7 percent from three. Teams like his work ethic. That said he’s not fast, he turns the ball over far too much, he’s not strong on the defensive end, and all of that leads to questions of where he fits in an NBA game. He’s young and has room to improve.

 
Lakers small icon 27. Los Angeles Lakers (via trade with Brooklyn): Kyle Kuzma, 6’9” power forward (Utah). He has the physical tools of a modern NBA four, with his 7-foot wingspan, versatile offensive game, he can play in transition, and he passes well. He’s not a bad three-point shooter (32 percent last year) but he has to be better to thrive in the NBA. He’s also got to be much better defensively. Kuzma has potential, but it’s going to take work on his part to thrive at the next level.

WE HAVE A TRADE: Utah traded away a late first round pick, now they pick up another one.

 
Jazz small icon 28. Utah Jazz (from LA Lakers via trade): Tony Bradley, 6’10” center (North Carolina). He was stuck behind some older, more experienced big men at North Carolina, limiting him to14.5 minutes per game this season, and he’s seen as a bit of a project. He’s tall, long (7’5” wingspan), plays with a high motor, and has a nice shooting stroke. However, he’s not a fantastic athlete, which worries teams. He could be a candidate for a two-way contract, but either way, he likely will spend time in the G-League developing next season.

 
Spurs small icon 29. San Antonio Spurs:. Derrick White,6’5” guard (Colorado). One of the best stories in the draft: he had no D1 college offers and just one D2, but he grew five inches at D2 school and eventually transferred to Colorado, only to make first team all Pac-12. He’s a combo guard who shot 40% from three and had 4.3 assists per game – he can shoot and create. He’s got a 6’8” wingspan which helps him make plays on defense. He’s a 23-year-old senior who may not develop much more than what we see early, but he could provide solid minutes off the bench as a rookie.

 
Lakers small icon 30. Los Angeles Lakers (via trade with Utah): Josh Hart, 6’5” shooting guard (Villanova). You may remember him from Villanova’s title run, he entered the draft last year but pulled out and returned to college. He improved his shooting, knocking down 40 percent from three last season, although he’s a spot-up guy not someone who pulls up off the dribble. He works well off screens. He’s a high IQ player. The challenge for him is he’s an average athlete by NBA standards, on offense will he be able to create space for his shot? Defensively he tries hard, he’s intense, but can he hang with better athletes night in and night out?

SECOND ROUND

 
Hornets small icon 31. Charlotte Hornets (via Atlanta in Dwight Howard trade): Frank Jackson, 6’4” shooting guard (Duke). Update: Jackson has been traded to the New Orleans Pelicans. Mike Krzyzewski’s team was loaded with quality shooting guards last season, but Jackson’s skills carved out a niche and 10.9 points per game. He’s got good length (6’7” wingspan) and is an explosive athlete (42 inch vertical) that helps him create space. He shot 39.5 percent from three but is more dangerous when he attacks straight line off the dribble because he’s strong and can finish. He’s not a playmaker for others, just himself, and there are questions about his defense going against other good athletes at the NBA level.

 
Suns small icon32. Phoenix Suns: Davon Reed, 6’6″ shooting guard (Miami of Florida). He has the potential to be a quality “3&D” guy in the NBA. Defensively he has a 7-foot wingspan and put in a lot of effort at the defensive end in college, and he’s the kind of fluid athlete NBA teams want. The senior shot 37.9 percent from three last season. The question is will he be athletic enough to do all that at the NBA level. Teams weren’t sure and that’s why he fell this far, plus as a senior there are questions about how much he develops.

 
Magic small icon 33. Orlando Magic: Wesley Iwundu, 6’7” shooting guard/wing (Kansas State). There are some things to like such as good size and length for a wing (7’1” wingspan), he’s got handles and can create shots, maybe even play some point, and he’s versatile defensively and can switch. He’s also a senior, so he’s older and farther along the development curve, he lacks polish on offense. Also, while he shot 37.6 percent from three, he needs consistency on shot. Can he get strong enough to defend NBA wings?

 
Kings small icon 34. Sacramento Kings: Frank Mason, 6’0” point guard (Kansas). The 2017 College Basketball Player of the Year, he averaged 20.3 points per game and shot 47.1 percent from three. He’s explosive attacking the rim, he can score a variety of ways, and he’s a strong floor general. Why is he being taken this late? Because he’s 6-foot in shoes, and there are real questions about how much that limits him on defense. He also needs to be a more consistent decision maker. He could be a steal this late as a second-team playmaking point guard.

 
Magic small icon 35. Orlando Magic: Ivan Rabb, 6’10” power forward/center (California). He’s this year’s cautionary tale: last year he was a potential lottery pick, certainly first rounder, yet he returned to Cal without testing the draft waters, and he fell way down the board because he didn’t show much improvement. He averaged 14 points a game, shot 40 percent from three, and can be a beast on the boards, but it can be hard to read his potential out of the mess that was the Cal offense. Is he a four or a five?

 
Sixers small icon 36. Philadelphia 76ers: Jonah Bolden, 6’10” power forward (Australia). He played a little at UCLA a year ago before heading to the Adriatic league for last season, where he won their equivalent of Rookie of the Year. He’s got the physical tools — size, reported 7’3” wingspan, athletic — and he hit 40 percent from three last season. He’s got a well-rounded offensive game and defensive potential. That said his decision making is often suspect, and that leads to consistency issues on both ends. His confidence seems to get shaken at times, and the NBA will test that.

 
Celtics small icon 37. Boston Celtics: Semi Ojeleye, 6’7” forward (SMU). Great pick this late in the draft, potential steal of the night. He spent one season at Duke as an undersized energy/athlete off the bench, then transfered to SMU where he fit better as a stretch-four, but can he play that at the next level? He’s a very good shooter, hitting 42.5% from three (he can shoot off the catch or off the bounce), plus he’s an impressive athlete (40.5 inch vertical) with a strong work ethic. The questions start with how does he adapt his game to the NBA? He’s not going to be able to be a four, but maybe he thrive as a three.

 
Bulls small icon 38. Chicago Bulls: Jordon Bell, 6’9” power forward (Oregon). UPDATE: Bell has been sold to the Golden State Warriors. Could be great pick this late. The NCAA Tournament can be overrated as a scouting tool, but NBA scouts noticed his defensive performance against Kansas — he was dominant. He did the same thing at the 5-on-5 portion of the NBA Draft Combine. He is very athletic, which should help his transition to the next level. While he has an NBA body, he is offensively very raw and unpolished (there is potential there as a guy who can score around the basket, but a lot of work needs to be done).

 
Clippers small icon 39. LA Clippers (via trade with the Philadephia 76ers). Jawun Evans, 6’1” point guard (Oklahoma State). He basically was the Oklahoma City offense last season. His strength was as a pick-and-roll point guard who passed out of that well and found the open man, he was able to score out of it as well in college but can he finish against NBA length? He shot 37 percent from three, but there are questions about how good a shooter he ultimately is. Works hard on the defensive end, but he’s not big or especially athletic so how does he do against NBA level guards?

 
Hornets small icon 40. Charlotte Hornets (via trade with New Orleans Pelicans): Dwyane Bacon, 6’6″ small forwawrd (Florida State). He has a 6’10” wingspan and passes the NBA wing eye test. He scored impressively in transition last season but has a more rounded offensive game than that and can get a team buckets. He just knows how to score when he attacks. His jumper is inconsistent (33 percent from three last season) and he’s not a focused defender. Is he enough of an athlete for the NBA level.

 
Hawks small icon 41. Atlanta Hawks: Tyler Dorsey, 6’4” shooting guard (Oregon). He probably helped his way into the second round with a fantastic performance in the NCAA Tournament. He’s a very good shooter, hitting 42.4 percent from three. He reinforced his ability to score from deep at the NBA Draft Combine where he shot 56 percent from three. The problem is he’s small for a two guard at the next level, and he doesn’t have the athleticism to cover for it. Maybe he can still get off his shot, but can he defend?

 
Lakers small icon 42. Los Angeles Lakers (via trade with Utah Jazz): Thomas Bryant, 6’10” center (Indiana). He’s a project, but he has the physical tools teams look for in a big man — he measured to have a 7’6 wingspan and a 9’4.5 standing reach at the combine. He runs the floor well, plays with a high motor (which makes him good on the offensive glass), and the potential to be a force around the rim popped up in flashes. But his efficiency dipped his sophomore season, he turns the ball over too much, and there are questions about how his game translates to the next level. Can he score consistently and defend well against NBA size and length?

 
Rockets small icon 43. Houston Rockets:
Isaiah Hartenstein, 7’0” power forward/center (played in Lithuania last season). What to like here starts with the physical profile — he has the build of an NBA center. He’s played professionally in Europe against men, he knows hot to be physical. He’s got a decent shot, although not from more than the midrange. He’s not got a go-to offensive play, and his defense is spotty. There’s potential as he develops, but it will take a little time.

 
Knicks small icon 44. New York Knicks: Damyean Dotson, 6’5″ shooting guard (Houston). He earned his way into the second round with a strong performance at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, then the NBA Draft Combine. He started his college career at Oregon but was released from there due to sexual assault allegations. He can score slashing to the basket and shot 44 percent from three last season — he can be a guy that gets a team buckets. He’s not a guy who can create shots well, and his defense is going to have to improve to stick at the NBA level.

 
Rockets small icon 45. Houston Rockets:
Dillon Brooks, 6’7” forward (Oregon). The Pac 12 Player of the year, he may be a little undersized (6’6” wingspan), and not the most athletic guy on the board, but he’s a fiery competitor and that showed against North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament. Brooks is a player who is good at everything but not really great at any one thing, which makes teams cautious. To be effective at the NBA level he’s got to improve his outside shooting and be more consistent.

 
Bucks small icon 46. Milwaukee Bucks (via trade from Philadelphia): Sterling Brown, 6’6” shooting guard (SMU). He’s the brother of former NBA player Shannon Brown. An under-the-radar guy (no NBA Draft Combine invite), he shot 44 percent from three last season, and with a 6’10 wingspan and solid build he has an NBA body. He’s got a versatile game, the questions are how his offense translates to the next level. He struggled to finish against length, and wasn’t consistent creating his own shot.

 
Pacers small icon 47. Indiana Pacers:. Ike Anigbogu, 6’10 center (UCLA). Great pick up this late in the draft, could be a steal. He’s not the tallest center, but the 7’6” wingspan and his physical strength make up for that. He’s also a quick, explosive leaper, which makes him a strong defender as both a shot-blocker and an active rebounder. On the other end, Anigbogu needs polish and a perimeter game, but he’s got good hands and knows how to finish lobs/dunks (especially in transition, he runs well), plus he can be a beast on the offensive glass. He fills a role in the modern NBA.

 
Clippers small icon 49. LA Clippers (via trade with the Milwaukee Bucks). Sindarius Thornwell, 6’5” shooting guard (South Carolina). He boosted his stock and helped get drafted based on his play in the NCAA Tournament, where he was key for the Game Cocks to get as far as he did. He’s strong, plays a physical game, has three-point shooting range, has a good basketball IQ, and plays hard. That might make him a fan favorite at Summer League, his average athleticism and lack of explosiveness had teams concerned about what he can do at the next level.

 
Nuggets small icon 49. Denver Nuggets: Vlatko Cancar, 6’8″ power forward (Slovenia). He’s a stretch four and role player at the NBA level. He’s got good size and a 6’11” wingspan, but what really matters is he can shoot the rock — 43 percent from three last season. He’s going to have to get stronger, then prove he can defend at the NBA level to stick. He played at a high level in Europe and could stay there to develop more.

 
Sixers small icon 50. Philadelphia 76ers: Mathias Lessort, 6’9” power forward/center (France). He had a strong season in the French League and the FIBA Champions’ league. He plays with high energy, and that helps make up for the fact he’s undersized by NBA standards (so does the 7’1” wingspan). He is an explosive athlete and uses that on defense and the glass well. He has the body of an NBA four but plays like a center and has to be close to the basket, he has very little shooting range.

 
Nuggets small icon 51. Denver Nuggets: Monte’ Morris, 6’3″ point guard (Iowa State). He’s a high IQ player who knows hot to run a team and doesn’t make mistakes — he led the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio three years in a row. He’s an okay shooter, but needs to improve. He’s an average athlete and that leads to defensive question marks. Also, will he be able to finish in the paint againt longer NBA rim protectors? Could become a solid backup point guard.

 
Pacers small icon 52. Indiana Pacers (pick purchased from New Orleans):. Edmond Sumner, 6’5” point guard (Xavier). How healthy is going to get and when can he play? He missed much of his freshman season with knee tendonitis, then tore his ACL during his sophomore campaign and was out the final couple months of the season. When healthy he has the physical tools to hang with any point guard in this draft, and his great first step make him fantastic as a slasher into the paint. However, he has to improve his shooting and his decision making, two things that didn’t get the chance to improve with playing time. A good gamble at this point in the draft.

 
Celtics small icon 53. Boston Celtics: Kadeem Allen, 6’2″ point guard (Arizona). If he sticks in the NBA, it’s because he will be fantastic on the defensive end (and that’s probably why Brad Stevens wanted him). He has a 6’9″ wingspan, and is a physical and irritating defender. He shot 42.7 percent from three last season. He’d be a 3&D point guard (think of the Patrick Beverley role), but that’s a hard one to carve out in the NBA. Especially on a Boston team deep at the guard spot.

 
Suns small icon54. Phoenix Suns: Alec Peters, 6’9” power forward (Valparaiso). He is coming off a stress fracture that ended his season early, the Suns are betting it was something that will not be chronic. He shot 36.9 percent from three, the hope is that he could be kind of a stretch four and a pick-and-pop threat. He plays a smart game. He’s not particularly long or athletic, can he defend at the NBA level? Is his ceiling Doug McDermott?

 
Jazz small icon 55. Utah Jazz: Nigel Williams-Goss, 6’4” point guard (Gonzaga). He is a high-IQ player who orchestrated the Gonzaga attack all the way to the NCAA title game, and he’s a natural leader who has a crafty game. He’s got the intangibles teams look for in a point guard. The challenge is he’s not terribly athletic for the position. He also needs to improve his shooting at the next level. That said, you can see why coaches will like him and may want to find a roster spot for him.

 
Celtics small icon 56. Boston Celtics: Jabari Bird, 6’6″ shooting guard (California). Very highly recruited out of high school, he never quite panned out as expected in Berkley. He’s not afraid to make a play or shoot the ball, and he hit 37 percent from three. He’s good on the catch-and-shoot. However, he’s an average athlete by NBA stanards, so their are defensive concerns, plus he needs to improve his decsion making considerably to stick at the next level.

 
Nets small icon 57. Brooklyn Nets: Aleksandar Vezenkov, 6’9″ forward (Cyprus). This is a draft and stash pick, we’ll see if he ever comes across the ocean to play here. He played for FC Barcelona last season, before that he played in the Greek League. He’s got that experience, and he has great offensive instincts and the ability to just get buckets. He shot 35 percent from three last season. He’s scored well in Europe. The reason he’s this far down the board is a lack of athleticism that makes scouts wonder if he can hang with the NBA game.

 
Knicks small icon 58. New York Knicks: Ogjen Jaramaz, 6’3″ point guard (Serbia). Another draft and stash guy, he was a former teammate of Nikola Jokic and Ivica Zubac in Europe. He impressed at Adidas Eurocamp and that got him here. He’s a good, explosive athlete who thrives pushing the ball in transition. In the half court he can use his athleticism to get to the rim. If he gets stronger and improves to develop a steady jumper he could get a shot in the NBA in a few years.

 
Spurs small icon 59. San Antonio Spurs:. Jarron Blossomgame, 6’7″ forward (Clemson). He has NBA size, including a 6-10 winspan, plus he’s a high-level athlete. He can defend at an NBA level. The knocks are that he will turn 24 by the start of the next NBA season, so there’s limited development we can expect. Also, he shot 44% from three as a junior but just 25% as a senior. He’s not hot a great offensive game and there are questions about how he scores at the next level.

 
Hawks small icon 60. Atlanta Hawks: Alpha Kaba, 6’10” center (France). A draft and stash, he has all the physical tools of an NBA center, starting with that 7’5″ wingpan, and a strong build. He finishes well around the rim, but he’s not an explosive athlete. He can hit the three, but his slow release may not transfer as well to the NBA. He’s also got work to do on the defensive end. He’s a project, but with these physical tools not a bad roll of the dice at 60.

O.G. Anunoby invited to NBA draft, Harry Giles declines

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The NBA’s invitations to the draft are a good indicator of when players will get drafted. The league samples executives, who are more likely to be honest here than in leaks to the media, about how they rank players. So, the list is worth monitoring.

The players who will attend tonight’s draft nearly match the leaks – with one exception. O.G. Anunoby is going, and Harry Giles isn’t.

Here are the players who will be at the draft – a reasonable placeholder for the players most likely to get picked in the top 20 – via A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN New England:

Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress:

Harry Giles declined his invite sources told DraftExpress.

Did Giles decline his invite because, with his extensive injury history, he feared falling too far? Or did he just prefer to watch elsewhere?

Was Anunoby simply 21st on the NBA’s list of players to invite? Or was the league too unsure of his medical status to include him until getting a stronger grasp now?

I don’t know, but the possibility that Giles could slip or Anunoby is more secure alters my perception of their draft stock (Anunoby up, Giles down).

Tiered 2017 NBA draft board

AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
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The 2017 NBA draft has been touted as a great one.

I’m not convinced.

Sure, there are strengths relative to average years: No. 2, middle of the lottery, middle of the second round. But I don’t rate players projected 3-7ish as the inevitable future stars they’re being made out to be, and prospects worth getting truly excited about peter out before the lottery ends.

Still, teams must draft based on who’s available. So, lets classify prospects within my tier system. As explained before:

Draft for need or take the best player available?

It’s the question as old as drafts themselves. Personally, I favor the middle-of-the-road approach – the tier system. I judge prospects on three attributes:

  • Current ability
  • Potential
  • Likelihood of meeting that potential

Obviously, assessing those attributes is not easy. It’s really hard.

That’s why I don’t like taking the best prospect – based on all three criteria – available. It’s just too difficult to split hairs between players with so many variables.

But overly considering fit is problematic for the same reason. Rosters churn, and it’s foolish to pass on a clearly better prospect – in the cases that becomes clear – just because he doesn’t fit the current version of the team.

So how does the tier system work?

Divide players into tiers based on their value regardless of fit. Don’t worry about differentiating prospects with nearly identical values. Find natural cutoffs.

Then, within each tier, rank the players based on fit for the specific drafting team.

Theoretically, a draft could have anywhere between 1 and 60 tiers. A 1-tier draft would mean every prospect – from the top pick to Mr. Irrelevant – holds the same value. A 60-tier draft would mean every prospect is clearly distinguishable based on value. Obviously, neither is likely.

The size of tiers should be organic, and therefore, the number of tiers is also organic. Naturally, tiers tend to be smaller near the top of the draft, where lines between players are sharper.

Here are the 12 tiers necessary to get through the first round. Within each tier, I rank players as if the drafting teams had empty rosters. Obviously, actual NBA teams would need to consider other information when assessing fit of players within a tier.

Tier 1

1. Markelle Fultz, PG, Washington

Fultz is SO smooth, though sometimes a little too smooth. It’s mostly an asset – especially in conjunction with his size (6-foot-5 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan). His moves are dazzling, using fluid ball-handling and an impressive pull-up jumper as weapons to get to his spots. He can also post-up, pass and move off the ball. It’s a lot for defenses to handle. He’s nearly a prototypical modern point guard on offense, though the inconsistency of his shooting form raises questions. As does Fultz’s propensity to get sloppy in his decision-making, forcing some bad shots and committing some head-scratching turnovers. That lax focus is amplified on defense, where his effort level was routinely lacking, save a few impressive highlight chase-down blocks that at least show his defensive potential. Was Fultz victim of a lousy defensive culture at Washington, or was he one of the causes? Fultz’s smooth athleticism might not translate cleanly from offense to defense, even with better effort, because his smooth strides don’t lend themselves to the quick changes of direction necessary to guard on the perimeter.

Tier 2

2. Lonzo Ball, PG, UCLA

Ball has elite court vision – and tools to take advantage of it. He excels in transition and getting his team into transition. His size (6-foot-6) and length allow him to generate plenty of steals and blocks, prompting fastbreaks. He pushes the ball well and will direct it to the right spot before the defense recognizes it. His passing is still a weapon in the halfcourt with his ability to see over defenses. His cutting ability, including an ability to finish lobs, is an intriguing off-ball threat against set defenses. But his lackluster ability to run a pick-and-roll or set himself apart some other way with the ball in the halfcourt is disconcerting. So is his defensive effort when he actual has to do something physical, like fight through a screen, and can’t just deflect the ball. And then there’s his funky shot, which he converted efficiently at UCLA. If I trusted those results, he might be No. 1 on my board. As is, he’s still closer to No. 1 than No. 3.

Tier 3

3. Josh Jackson, SF, Kansas

I find myself caught between Jackson’s very vocal supporters and a credible contingent of doubters. I am concerned about his age and jump shot. But his passing speaks to an ability to quickly read the floor, which could serve him very well in other facets of his game. His defensive tools are also impressive, though he – like most rookies – probably isn’t ready to step in and immediately excel on that end.

4. Dennis Smith Jr., PG, North Carolina State

Smith attacks so well as a lead ball-handler, using tremendous burst and a comfort playing through contact. He’s neither a great outside shooter nor passer, but he’s good enough considering the threat of his drive. A high-level offense could run through Smith someday. There are questions about his attitude. Is that just because North Carolina State was bad, especially defensively, and it doesn’t seem he cared enough on that end? There’s only so much a freshman, even a point guard (a natural leadership position) as talented as Smith, can do. And he wouldn’t be the first young player who needed time to lock in defensively, especially considering his heavy offensive burden. If there’s more to the attitude questions, I don’t know.

Tier 5

5. Jonathan Isaac, F, Florida State

Isaac is a high-upside prospect who’s safer than credited (which is not to say safe) – as long as he’s not pigeonholed into traditional star scoring expectations. Despite being a lanky 6-foot-11, Isaac still excelled as a defensive rebounder. That speaks to his basketball intelligence and determination. His length and fluidity give him elite defensive potential. Then there are the tantalizing flashier aspects of his game: finishing alley-oops above the rim and a smooth-looking jumper. Isaac deferred a lot at Florida State, which both protected him from exposing his flaws (especially shaky ball-handling) and prevented him from showing off and developing his strengths. There might be an adjustment period as Isaac acclimates to a bigger role in the NBA, but he’s more likely than not to reward patience.

6. Lauri Markkanen, PF, Arizona

Markkanen is a 7-footer who made 42% of his 3-pointers at Arizona. Yet, even that eye-popping combination sells him short. He can generate 3-pointers so many ways — pick-and-pops, spot-ups, off off-ball screens and even running pick-and-rolls himself. He can shoot over smaller defenders and/or free himself from them. It’s difficult to find players to defend him, even if his inside-the-arc skills leave plenty to be desired. Markkanen is mobile enough to stick decently with smaller players defensively, so don’t expect a massive mismatch on the other end.

7. Malik Monk, G, Kentucky

Monk is an elite individual scorer who works well within a team’s offensive construct. He’s decisive, not bogging down the flow. He’s a threat with or without the ball, always working to get to a spot where he can rise up and shoot. Even at 6-foot-3, he has the athleticism and form to get his shot off cleanly from mid-range and deep. His size prevents him from getting all the way to the rim often enough, but his explosiveness suggests he could leap forward as a driver if he gets stronger. Right now, Monk is a shooting guard in a point guard’s body. If he develops into a point guard – he’s a good passer for an off guard, though he needs much better feel running the pick-and-roll – he’s too low on this board.  Even as an undersized shooting guard, he can still contribute. But moving to point guard would be particularly helpful, because his feeble defense projects to become passable against only point guards.

8. De'Aaron Fox, PG, Kentucky

Is he John Wall or Ish Smith? I see more Smith in his game, but Fox is just 19 with plenty of time to develop. The possibility he becomes Wall and a reasonably high floor warrant a high selection. Fox is fast, and that serves him well on both ends. He’s dangerous in transition, with or – given his ability to finish above the rim – without the ball. He can probe defenses in the halfcourt, snaking through defenders looking for passing lanes. Using his penetration to create more passing lanes would be a good next step for him. Of course, becoming a good outside shooter is the most important step he can take. It’s a huge, career-defining unknown, and I wouldn’t be surprised either way whether he adds that skill. Defensively, Fox uses his speed well to pressure the ball – both his man and on double-teams, with an ability to go back and forth. His frailty limits his defense and his finishing at the rim (though, curiously, not his foul-drawing), as he’s limited to a lot of floaters. I’m not sure how much strength Fox can add, but if he gets stronger without losing speed, he should stick in the league a while. His 3-point shot, though, will determine whether he can become a star.

Tier 5

9. Jayson Tatum, F, Duke

Tatum was often the best athlete on the floor in college. He rarely will be in the NBA. Will his game hold up? He’s a ball-stopper, though his individual scoring skills make the tradeoff worthwhile. He’s a fine shooter, fine passer and maybe will become a fine defender. I’m just not sure he’ll justify how often he disrupts an offense’s flow – or successfully adjust his style.

10. Zach Collins, C, Gonzaga

Collins is a roll of the dice. He spent one season coming off the bench in the West Coast Conference and never played more than 23 minutes in a game. But he’s a roll of the dice I’d be thrilled to make. He showed nice touch near the basket and a solid stroke from mid-range and occasionally beyond the arc. He moved well defensively, blocking shots and still getting into rebounding position. That’s a special combination. He plays more athletically than credited, though the strength concerns are real. He regularly enough got outmuscled by players way more fatigued than him. Collins’ age is a reasonable potential excuse.

Tier 6

11. Frank Ntilikina, PG, Strasbourg

The 6-foot-5 Ntilikina projects to become a player who can defend every perimeter position while playing as a capable point guard offensively. That opens so many doors. Just 18, Ntilikina might need to lean on another playmaker in the backcourt for a while. He’s neither steady nor dangerous enough, especially as a scorer, to run the offense himself at all times. But he has solid off-ball skills, so that should work. Ntilikina doesn’t possess standout athleticism, so a lower ceiling keeps him from climbing higher on my board

12. OG Anunoby, SF, Indiana

Anunoby could be a defensive stud who guards every position. He flies above the rim and at least offers hope on his jumper – when healthy. He suffered a season-ending knee injury in the winter and could miss time in his first NBA season. The latter doesn’t worry me. Anunoby losing athleticism or facing greater risk of re-injury does. Without more medical information, I’m somewhat shooting in the dark.

13. Harry Giles, PF, Duke

Giles looked like a complete prospect in high school, maybe even a future No. 1 pick. But injuries have piled up. Without access to his medical records, I’m mostly guessing here. He could belong much higher or much lower.

Tier 7

14. Luke Kennard, SG, Duke

Kennard is more than just a shooter. He has developed point guard skills, and at 6-foot-5, can see over defenses. He has reportedly tested well athletically in workouts – easing the biggest concern about him. That opens the door for him to defend adequately and maybe even play some point guard, where he’d be more valuable.

15. Donovan Mitchell, SG, Louisville

I believe in Mitchell’s ability to defend point guards. Otherwise, I’m skeptical. He’s 6-foot-3 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, so defending wings is certainly within the realm of possibility. I don’t trust his ability to run an offense as a point guard. I don’t like his scoring game – to few good shots generated – as a shooting guard. But he’s athletic and has enough raw skills and areas for theoretical improvement to take chance on him.

16. Jonah Bolden, PF, FMP Beograd

Bolden is comfortable on the perimeter, where he can shoot off the dribble or spotting up, find teammates with impressive passes or drive to the hoop. Those skills aren’t completely developed yet, but its an impressive array. For a stretch four, Bolden’s athleticism takes him to the next level. Near the basket, he plays above the rim. He has all the tools to move with perimeter players on switches defensively. The big concern: Bolden shies from physicality and struggles when it finds him. Maybe that changes if he gets stronger. A point of confusion: Why was Bolden so unimpressive in his lone season at UCLA before thriving overseas?

Tier 8

17. John Collins, PF, Wake Forest

He’s a tenacious interior scorer and rebounder, always attacking his spots, through contact or otherwise. Those skills just don’t translate defensively. As much as defense is about effort, Collins just looks lost. Pedestrian athleticism and length limit him as a rim-protector. Sticking with stretch fours will require far more defensive discipline than he has shown. I’m not even sure about his role offensively, either. He has nice footwork in the post, but he’s not nearly enough of a passer for someone in that position. His jumper could come along and open things for him.

18. Isaiah Hartenstein, PF, Zalgiris

Hartenstein built a lot of his resume on outhustling less athletic players in Europe, but there are traits that will translate (size, a massive 7-foot-1), should translate (passing) and might translate (shooting). Shooting is the big one. If he develops his outside shot, that would allow him to spend more time on the perimeter and take advantage of his passing ability. While reasonably mobile, he’s too undisciplined defensively to take advantage. Just 19, he can improve considerably. A lack of explosive athleticism is concerning, though.

Tier 9

19. Ike Anigbogu, C, UCLA

Anigbogu, 18 until October, might be the youngest player drafted this year. He’s big (6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-6 wingspan, more than 250 pounds without a lot of body fat), and he throws his body around while moving well for his size. He just lacks any ball skills offensively and polish defensively. Sometimes, he’s too aggressive. Other times, he’s too passive. If he gains a better feel and/or becomes more polished, he could be a weapon. Time is on his side.

Tier 10

20. T.J. Leaf, PF, UCLA

Leaf is a pick-and-pop threat who expands into an offensive threat all over the floor. He can shoot from all levels of the floor, and his advanced court vision leads to impressive passes. But his defense poses problems. He’s subpar defending on the perimeter and even worse protecting the rim.

21. Justin Patton, C, Creighton

Patton is an excellent finisher, creating high-efficiency shots at the rim in transition, as roll man and as a cutter. He needs someone to set him up, but I hear NBA teams employ point guards. He has shown glimpses of playmaking out of the post and shooting from distance, suggesting his offensive game can expand. He doesn’t rebound well enough, but he has flashed solid rim protection. If he improves his physique, he could blossom.

Tier 11

22. Tyler Lydon, PF, Syracuse

Lydon’s strengths are 3-point shooting and shot-blocking, a dynamite combination for a modern big man. His rebounding and interior defense are lagging (and his ability to defend on the perimeter is even worse). But there’s a path to playing time for anyone who shoot 3s and block shots like Lydon projects to. If there’s a good reason Lydon has seemingly generated no momentum in the pre-draft process, I don’t know what it is.

23. Monte Morris, PG, Iowa State

Nobody in this range of the draft is a safe bet to have a long NBA career. Morris might come closest, as he could step in as and remain a backup point guard for a while. Let him run an offense, and he’ll make the right pass while committing few turnovers. The question: Without great athleticism, can he create enough situations where the right pass leads to a bucket often enough? I think he’s savvy enough to create seams with craftiness and decent shooting ability, but it’s not a given. Morris at least controls what he can control. He puts effort into defense and rebounding, adding more value with the latter.

24. Jawun Evans, PG, Oklahoma State

Evans is a blur, a 6-foot speedster who can attack the rim with abandon. That pressures the defense, and he’s adept at kicking to teammates (though not finishing at the rim). He can also pull up for jumpers, keeping defenses honest. But he’s small, which brings into question his ability to translate to the pros, especially defensively.

25. D.J. Wilson, PF, Michigan

For better or worse, Wilson plays like  wing. He shoots 3-pointers and dribbles and moves fluidly. He also too often avoids contact from fellow bigs. But the 6-foot-11 Wilson must play power forward, because that gives him his matchup advantages. With a 7-foot-3 wingspan and bounciness, he can protect the rim at times (and finish over it on the other end). He must work on still deterring shots at the rim when also countering a bigger offensive payer inside and rebounding.

26. Terrance Ferguson, SG, Adelaide 36ers

Ferguson projects as an athletic 3-and-D guard, but he’s not nearly as ready as hoped. His shot is unreliable. His defensive awareness lags behind professional standards. But these are issues young players sometimes enter the NBA with and figure out. There’s a path forward here that leads to Ferguson becoming a contributor in the league.

27. Tony Bradley, C, North Carolina

Bradley is huge (6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan), and he offensively rebounded like a beast in college. But why didn’t that nose for the ball on the offensive glass show up in other areas, namely defensively? His athleticism is lacking, raising questions how he’ll translate. His soft touch could serve him well, though.

28. Jarrett Allen, C, Texas

Allen is long (6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-5.5 wingspan) and mobile, but he uses those traits to too often play a finesse game – reaching by opponents for rebounds or blocks rather than banging. Shying from contact holds him back. So does how long it takes him to load up to jump (though he gets nice height once he elevates). I’m obviously relatively low on Allen and, with his unrefined offense, see him as a major project. But late in the first round, he’s worth a flier. He could certainly develop.

Tier 12

29. Semi Ojeleye, F, SMU

Ojeleye was a  22-year-old dominating the American Athletic Conference last year. Will that translate to the NBA? His best path is at power forward, where he can face up and either shoot 3-pointers (though not necessarily from NBA range) or drive (though with brute force, not creatively). Even at 6-foot-7, he’s strong enough to hold his own defending and rebounding inside.

30. Bam Adebayo, C, Kentucky

Adebayo is a voracious dunker. He displays impressive motor, explosiveness, physicality on his slams. He just hasn’t seem interested in applying those traits to other areas of his game, like defense and rebounding. If Adebayo applies himself in those less-glamorous areas, he could succeed in the NBA. Powerful dunks alone won’t keep him in the league.

31. Jordan Bell, PF, Oregon

Bell can protect the rim and guard on the perimeter, a special defensive combination for the 6-foot-9 fluid athlete. But he’ll have to play elite defense to stick in the NBA, because his offense is limited to finishing at the rim. Bell does that very efficiently, but it’ll be easier to take away with no other offensive skills as threats.