PBT’s close look at eight top NBA Draft prospects

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It feels like just five days ago it was Game 7 of the NBA Finals, and already the NBA Draft is here… wait, it was just five days ago. The NBA doesn’t have the spacing of the draft down to a science.

Through the Finals and before, our friend Rob Dauster of NBC’s CollegeBasketballTalk has been helping us prepare for the draft — he’s seen these guys and followed them for years. He knows their games. For example, he swung by for a fantastic PBT Podcast breaking guys down. 

He also did eight detailed breakdowns of eight of the top picks in this draft. Here are highlights from each of those stories, with a link to check them out — and you should read the longer, detailed breakdowns. (These are in alphabetical order, in a nod to Sesame Street.)

• Jaylen Brown, 6’7” small forward (California): Brown is everything that you could possibly want out of an athlete at the small forward spot. He’s 6-foot-7. He has a 7-foot wingspan. He’s athletic in every way you would need to be athletic: He can run in transition, he’s explosive in space, he’s explosive in traffic, he’s a one-foot and two-foot leaper, he’s quick laterally, he’s strong. It’s all there, and it’s easy to look at him and see a guy who can eventually be an elite perimeter defender in the NBA.

Brown is essentially going to have to be taught how to be an NBA player. He doesn’t have a great feel for the game at this point, and he doesn’t quite understand how to use his physical tools.

• Marquese Chriss, 6’10” power forward (Washington): When it comes to physical tools, there really isn’t more that you can ask for in a prospect. He’s 6-foot-10, he has a wingspan that stretches over 7-feet, he’s athletic enough to get his head above the rim and he’s mobile enough that he can hold his own defending guards on the perimeter. He’s already 233 pounds and is one of the youngest players in this draft, both in terms of age (he turns 19 on July 2nd) and experience (he’s only played basketball for four years).

Chriss’ feel for the game is about as lacking as you would expect from a guy who has been playing for just four years. Let’s start with the defensive end of the floor, where Chriss led the NCAA in fouls committed. Seriously. He fouled out of 15 of the 34 games he played and had four fouls in ten others. The problem is one of over-aggressiveness. He bites on pump fakes far too often and he reaches for steals against ball-handlers when he really has no chance to get them.

Kris Dunn, 6’4” point guard (Providence): What Dunn does well he does at an elite, borderline all-star level. Let’s start with the defensive end of the floor, where I think Dunn has a chance to make an all-defensive team before his career comes to an end. Physically, he has all the tools you want to see in a defensive terror. He’s 6-foot-4 with a better-than 6-foot-9 wingspan. He’s got quick hands and quicker feet. He’s strong, he’s athletic, he can move laterally, he can jump a passing lane.

It’s alarming to see a 22-year old point guard making some of the mistakes that Dunn has made the last two years. He averaged 3.5 turnovers last season, which is an incredibly high number for anyone, let alone a point guard, regardless of their usage rate or the fact that it was an improvement from the season before, when he coughed the ball up 4.2 times-a-night. Those turnover numbers would be higher if bad shots were counted as well. Dunn really has the full-range of turnovers in his arsenal: He tries to make the highlight reel play instead of the simple play. He forces the action against a set defense with wild drives into the lane. He throws lazy passes and he’s sloppy with the ball in his hands.

• Henry Ellenson, 6’11” power forward (Marquette): Ellenson’s offensive skill-set for someone his size is ridiculous. He’s a shade under 7-feet but capable of snagging a defensive rebound and going coast-to-coast. His handle and mobility in the open floor is not something you see that often from 19-year olds that are that tall.

He’s just plain bad on the defensive end of the floor. There’s really no other way to put it. He did averaging 1.5 blocks this season, but that had far more to do with his 7-foot-2 wingspan than it did his ability as a rim protector. Because Ellenson is not that. He lacks the vertical explosiveness to challenge at the rim, and more than that, he seemed to simply shy away from it at times. He’s just not a guy with the sense of timing or the desire to be an elite shot blocker.

• Brandon Ingram, 6’9” forward (Duke): He’s a prototype “big” for what many think the future of the NBA looks like, because in addition to those physical tools, he happens to be a terrific perimeter scorer. Ingram started the year in a bit of a slump, but in December, Duke’s starting power forward suffered a season-ending injury and Ingram was forced into the front court. He became borderline-unguardable for long stretches, as there were times where he was the biggest player on the floor for the Blue Devils. He’s too tall for wings to guard and he’s too quick and mobile for bigs.

At this point, the single biggest weakness in Ingram’s game is his weakness. Duke listed him at 190 pounds this season, and that was after he put on nearly 20 pounds his first summer on campus. But it’s important to remember here that Ingram is a “young” freshman. He doesn’t turn 19 until September — half of the class of 2016 is older than he is — and he’s already a late-bloomer. He grew nearly eight inches during high school and was never really considered this caliber of prospect until Coach K unleashed him a month into the season.

• Jamal Murray, 6’5” shooting guard (Kentucky)That jumper, man. It’s something else. When he gets into a rhythm, it’s over. He can make five or six threes in a row. He made at least four threes in 13 games this season — including four games where he made at least six threes — and he became just the second freshman in college basketball history to make 113 threes in a season. The other guy to do that? Curry, Stephen.

The biggest concern with Murray is that his physical tools leave something to be desired. At just over 6-foot-4, he doesn’t have the ideal size for a shooting guard or the wingspan to make up for it, but he doesn’t have the quicks or the explosiveness to be a point guard. He struggled at times to turn the corner and get all the way rim when he put the ball on the floor, and that’s partially evident in the fact that he only shot 50 percent from two-point range. The reason he has to be crafty in the paint is because he has to rely on using footwork and his body to create space to get a shot off.

• Jakob Poeltl, 7’1” center (Utah): Poeltl was one of the most efficient low-post scorers in the country (1.092 PPP) while averaging better than ten post touches per game when you include the possessions when he passed out of double teams. He is not Tim Duncan — his skill-set is not that advanced and, while he shot 69 percent from the free throw line, his touch is not all that great — but he is quite effective. He can score over either shoulder and he’s developing some pretty effective combo and counter moves.

For a guy that is 7-foot-1, Poeltl was not all that great of a rim protector in the collegiate ranks. This past season, he averaged just 2.0 blocks per 40 minutes. Part of that is his length, as he has an average wingspan and standing reach for his size. Part of it is that he lacks explosiveness off of two-feet; he’s a far better jumper off of one foot when he’s got a head of steam than he is when he is trying to defend at the rim.

Ben Simmons, 6’9” forward (LSU): Simmons is 6-foot-10. He’s quick. He’s agile. He’s fluid. He can move laterally. He runs the floor like a deer. He’s got some bounce to him. He checks in somewhere around 230-240 pounds. (He didn’t get his physical profile measured at the combine.) He moves like a player six inches shorter than him and he’s built like typical power forward. When combined with ball-handling, his elite-of-the-elite vision and ability throw no-look bullet passes all over the court, he becomes him a constant highlight reel. Simmons is better than anyone that I can remember watching at the college level at grabbing a defensive rebound and leading the break, and his phenomenal ability to clean the glass (he averaged 8.8 defensive boards) is a major reason that more than a quarter of his offense came in transition, according to Synergy’s logs.

Weakness: Shooting. Simmons made just one three his freshman season. He attempted just three. He was 14-for-45 on jumpers, per Synergy. He shot 67.0 percent from the free throw line. That isn’t terrible, but his jump is ugly enough that there are scouts out there that believe he should follow in the footsteps of Tristan Thompson and switch which hand he shoots with; he’s currently a lefty, although he’s always coming back to his right hand around the rim.