Making Sense of the Rookie Hype

By Jack Drapkin

For all of the hype surrounding the 2017 Rookie NBA Class, they have yet to play an official NBA game. However, with the success that many of them had in the various Summer Leagues, the hype is certainly understandable. What I find most interesting is who the spotlight has been placed upon primarily.

Sure, Lonzo Ball has the media in a buzz buoyed by his business-savvy, loudmouth of a Father, but he was not the number one pick that was Markelle Fultz. And of course Dennis Smith Jr. has looked impressive and explosive but he wasn’t even the third point guard selected, De’Aaron Fox, or the fourth for that matter, Frank Ntilikina.

Alright, alright, alright what’s the point? Well, remember how excited everyone was for Michael Carter-Williams and Tyreke Evans after there rookie campaigns. Or how about the promise that Jared Sullinger and Iman Shumpert showed early in their careers. What about how promising Anthony Bennett looked in his days for the Cavs. Oh, too soon you say?

Alright, let’s flip that around, remember what a young Mike Conley was like. How about Harrison Barnes in his first year with the Warriors. Point being, many players can have fast starts to their career and stall out, while others struggle initially before finding their footing.

So my advice to all of you whoever you were high on before the draft process and during the summer maintain that faith, no matter the start of the season.

It’s NBA Draft Night!

By Jack Drapkin

We’ve been waiting, or at least myself and those of who root for the 28 minor league teams currently parading the NBA, have. Tonight’s the night of hope. There are no draft busts tonight, just questionable decisions and shocking selections. Thon Maker at 10?! Are you kidding me? (By the way it sure looks like the Bucks were right again, note to self don’t question those guys again).

Anyway, the Knicks get their shot at returning to the glory years with the promise of potentially adding Dennis Smith Jr., and the Lakers seem poised to try and bring back ‘Show Time’ with the addition of Lonzo Ball. Meanwhile “The Process” sure seems to be well under way in Philly with the presumed addition of Markelle Fultz.

This is the time to be positive and rejoice for many lottery teams who frankly will be lottery bound again next season. (Looking at you Sacramento, let’s see what Georgios Papagiannis does this season huh).

So here are three things I’ll be looking for come draft night.

Number one:

Does my favorite NBA Draft Prospect Jonathan Isaac sneak into the top-5? I think this comes down to whether the Phoenix Suns pull the trigger at four. Pairing him with Booker, Bledsoe and last year’s selections Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender would  give the Suns an exciting young core.

Number two:

Speaking of the Kings, which draft prospect gets thrown into the tornado that is Sacramento. I think it will be difficult for a non-PG to have success there with the number 5 pick. Therefore, it is vital that the Kings end up with either De’Aaron Fox or Dennis Smith Jr.

Number three:

When will the first senior be selected? The first senior has typically been selected just outside the top-10 the past five seasons. This season should be no different, in fact my prediction is that no senior will be selected in the first 20 selections. If I had to bet I’d say Wesley Iwundu from Kansas State will be the first one selected near the end of the first round. If your reaction is ‘Who?’, I don’t blame you, long gone are the days of 4-year dominate collegiate players.

The 2017 NBA Draft Starts with Number Three

By Jack Drapkin

While I would love to be surprised come Draft Night, it sure seems to be that the top two selections are set in stone. Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball are penciled in as the first two picks of the NBA Draft to the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers respectively.

That’s great and the intrigue will be there for their first games in the Summer League, however, for all intents and purposes, the draft starts with the Philadelphia 76ers at pick number three. Boy is it an interesting decision for them.

They have needs at guard and on the wing, with their supposed two best players, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, combining for 36 games over four NBA seasons. The Sixers should really be able to select the best player available.

And boy do they need to get this pick right. Look, Simmons and Embiid and especially Embiid, look like generational players. But with the major injuries Embiid has suffered and the fact that Simmons has yet to hit the floor, it’d be nice to add another prospect with a high ceiling, but also an established floor.

To me, there are four players who are in play for the Sixers, Josh Jackson, Jayson Tatum, Jonathan Isaac, and Malik Monk.

I just don’t think it’s likely they select a point guard here at three as they have gone out of their way to say that Ben Simmons would operate as a point guard and not a point forward ala LeBron James.

So it becomes a question of which wing prospect do they feel suits their team best.

Look, I think the Sixers are in a tough spot here.

Monk has the best shot-making ability of the group but is the most limited in the other aspects of his game, especially the defensive end. For a team, built on size and length, Monk would seem a curious fit at this selection.

Tatum has the offensive acumen, but he is best suited with the ball in his hands. Will there be enough basketballs for an Embiid, Simmons, Tatum trio not to mention outstanding rookie Dario Saric.

Speaking of Saric, his presence along with Robert Covington makes it tough to believe that Jonathan Isaac is the selection here. Isaac seems best suited to play the 3-4 position and with the glut of talent there for the Sixers, it may be tough for him to get playing time.

This leads to my conclusion that Josh Jackson has to be the selection here. His ability to play as an over-sized two guard is vital for this pairing to work. However, I feel it is the best possibility and fit of all the possibilities.

If you’re a Sixers fan, you better hope though that Jackson’s 3-point stroke is legitimate because that team will have major spacing issues if it’s not.

I think the Sixers, end up picking Jackson, but they are a true wildcard in a Draft sure to provide some fireworks come June 22nd.

REPORT: Lakers Would Pass on Lonzo Ball

By John Camera

According to Bleacher Report writer Jordan Schultz, if the NBA Draft was held today, the Los Angeles Lakers would pass on the player many expect them to select, UCLA Point Guard Lonzo Ball. Schultz notes that the Lakers are very concerned with Lonzo’s father, LaVar, and the impact he would have. LaVar has manifested fame through the success of his son and with Lonzo landing in a prime time destination like LA, just down the street from where he played college, LaVar could have an even bigger voice. Along with this, the Lakers’ front office is concerned with Ball’s on-court game, skeptical of whether he can transition to being a true star at the next level.

While his father LaVar is an unknown, who knows how he’ll act when his son is in the place he’s wanted him to be since the beginning of this process, the Lakers concerns with Lonzo’s game are serious and well-warranted.

Ball does has a safety net to fall back on. At the very worst he projects to be a Ricky Rubio type of player who can act as a distributor and play-maker but does little to create for himself. Rubio as a worst case scenario isn’t very bad and the best case prospects for Ball should excite anyone. He could be the second coming of Jason Kidd or Penny Hardaway if he adjusts well to the NBA game. However, there are still deterrents that could prevent him from getting there.

The two biggest negatives to Lonzo’s game are his lack of elite athleticism and his funky, unorthodox shooting motion. Lonzo does not have blazing speed or quickness like some of his contemporaries in this draft class and it could be a factor that may limit him throughout his career; this isn’t a very fixable issue. What is fixable is his lack of great dribble moves that can separate him from defenders, something he will have to work on if he is to create consistent separation at the NBA level.

The other problem Ball will need to clean up to achieve NBA stardom is his shooting motion, which includes a low release point and may limit his dribble jumper at the next level. Ball will need to adjust the shot to get it to work against bigger, stronger, longer defenders or rebuild his mechanics from the ground up. While he should receive credit for being a solid three point and off-ball scorer at UCLA, he will need to do more, such as building a mid-range game, to become an NBA star.

While these are real issues that may hold Lonzo Ball back, it should be noted that he is still the best option for the Lakers if Markelle Fultz is off the board. However, a player to watch for Los Angeles is Kentucky’s lightening-fast De’Aaron Fox. Fox could transform into a John Wall-type player as he fills out and learns to shoot better and turn the ball over less. As is, Fox is a speed demon with good mechanics, basketball IQ, and defending ability. If the Lakers are going to pick between Fox and Ball they have two choices; go with the potential homerun in Fox or take the safe pick and select Ball.

 

The Best Scorer in the 2017 NBA Draft No One is Talking About

What if I were to tell you there is a player in this draft who averaged 20 points a game in the ACC.

Who did so while leading Wake Forest back to the tourney for the first time in seven years. 

And is not a senior but rather a spry sophomore.

John Collins. The 6’10 230 Forward from Wake Forest has been criminally underrated.

Look this year’s draft class is loaded I understand. However, a player with as multi-faceted an offensive game as Collins should be garnering a lot more conversation as a lottery pick.

Collins put up 30 against Duke, 25 on Louisville..this was no case of a player taking advantage of weak competition. In fact, he tended to rise to the level of his opponent.

Collins is a dominant interior scorer and easily the best big man scorer in this class. He has an array of moves in the mid-range area and a nice touch on his jumper evidenced by 62% shooting from the field.

The owner of the highest Player Efficiency Rating (PER) in the nation last season. It is easy to infer that Collins had his way at the offensive end of the court.

Defensively there are some concerns. The first thing many draftniks will point to is the lack of length he has, with only a 6’11” wingspan on his 6’10” frame. However, with his mobility, he should be able to curtail this issue at the next level.

The defensive factor I am concerned about, effort. Now, the excuse given to a lot of guys who have to carry the load offensively is that they don’t have the energy to produce similar results on the defensive end. While that may be fair, Collins didn’t show consistent effort on that end of the court. He also demonstrated a propensity to commit silly fouls, which may have also limited his defense activity as he would then have to avoid foul trouble.

Look, I think 10-15 years ago this guy is a surefire top-10 pick as an NBA Power Forward. The shift to “positionless” basketball has hurt guys like Collins who’s not quite a Center but doesn’t fit into today’s Forward position either.

This leaves two options, either increase your shooting range to the 3-point line or become a more sturdy defensive presence. I think with time Collins can and will do both, but only time will tell.

Until next time,

Jack Drapkin

Remember to follow me on Twitter @NBADraftWhiz! Shoot me your NBA Draft Questions.

Meet 5 Seniors (Dinosaurs) in the 2017 NBA Draft Class

By Jack Drapkin

In a loaded draft class dominated by diaper dandies, the stock of several seniors has slid under the radar. In fact, if you look closely at many mock drafts it will be hard to find just one senior who is selected in the first round.

Josh Hart is everyone’s favorite pick to be this year’s, Malcolm Brogdon. For good reason, he has the advanced offensive game and serial mentality. However, unlike Brogdon who was an excellent defender in college, Hart still needs work on the defensive end of the court and is not near the athlete Brogdon is. However, Hart is a tremendous worker and an intelligent basketball player. He’s got a shot.

Frank Mason is one of my favorite players to watch period. He and his backcourt mate Devonte Graham, were a joy to watch at Kansas grow over the past three seasons. Look this guy even has a song “B*#$h I’m Frank Mason”. Give it a listen. Mason is too tough, too competitive, and too gifted offensively not to find success at the next level. He won’t be a 1st rounder, and maybe not even a 2nd but he will play in the NBA. Book it.

Alec Peters from Valparaiso has been talked about for what seems like forever. As a 6’9 Forward with a sweet-shooting stroke it makes sense. However, I think his upside is a Channing Frye, Jon Leur-type player, who is limited athletically and is therefore a minus on the defensive end. I’m not sold his game will translate to the next level.

Wesley Iwundu from Kansas State is one of my biggest sleepers in this year’s draft class. Here’s a guy who improved every year he was in school and averaged 13 points, six rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game last season. Oh did I mention, he’s 6’7″ with a near 7-foot wingspan. As an excellent defender Iwundu has everything you look for in a 3 and D guy.

Monte Morris from Iowa State is your consummate floor general. Ever since his freshman year, this guy has been among the nation’s leaders in assist/turnover ratio. This year was no different as he posted a prolific 5.17 assist/turnover ratio. He simply does not make mental mistakes on the basketball court. He’s got a shot at the next level.

Shoot me a message on Twitter @NBADraftWhiz for any of your NBA draft questions!

An Introduction: Dennis Smith Jr.

By Jack Drapkin

For all the hype that Dennis Smith Jr., had coming out of high school, it sure seems lost after recovering from a torn ACL and playing for a downtrodden NC State program.

And while this is understandable, it is lost on me. He lead his team in scoring and assists (18 and 6 respectively) and regained much of the explosiveness that he showed pre-injury.

Now two weeks ago, I made the case the case the Knicks should go with De’Aaron Fox, and with more information now Frank Ntilikina would also be a great fit.

However, and I’m going to admit my bias here, Dennis Smith Jr., is the third best Point Guard prospect. In a year where the guys rated ahead of him, Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz have Hall of Fame potential, that means something. In fact, I think Dennis has as high a ceiling as anyone else in the draft class.

What makes Smith so special?

Scoring and Playmaking. Simple.

There are many players who can do one of these at the NBA level, in fact, everyone who’s played in the NBA has been a great scorer at some point in their career. However, the ability to do both at an elite level is rare, though less rare than in year’s prior. (See Westbrook, Russell, and Harden, James.)

But the guy who Smith has reminded me of the most since I saw him play in high school has been Derrick Rose. Yes that Derrick Rose, youngest league MVP ever before the knee injuries Rose.

There are certain things that simply cannot be taught. The uncanny ability to explode to the rim, hang and finish, was the stalwart of Rose’s young career and should be for Smith as well.

Areas of Concern?

How about defense and the ACL injury he spent the year and a half recovering from.

For all of his straight-line explosiveness to the basket and ability to use dribble moves to get by defenders, he struggles at times staying in front of opposing guards. He also needs work as a team defender, understanding how and when to help off his man. At the least, he needs to improve at the latter to contribute to better teams.

Injury wise he tore the ACL/PCL of his left knee, his plant leg, his senior year of high school. That will be a concern for some talent evaluators moving forward as he does have such a similar playing style to Rose.

Look Dennis Smith Jr. is one of my favorite players in this draft class, he is exciting, competitive and tough. (See 32 points in Cameron Indoor over Duke in the win).

Bottom Line, if your team drafts Smith come June feel happy, you got yourself a playmaker.

Which Point Guard should the Knicks Take?

By Jack Drapkin

So You’re Telling ME…The Knicks Need a Point Guard?

It looks like Derrick Rose is on his way out of the Big Apple and it is time for Knicks to get a running mate for the Unicorn, Kristaps Porzingis. (I know Carmelo is still there, but really c’mon how, how much longer will he be around for after this.)

For purposes of this article let’s assume the lottery plays out true to form and the Knicks select 7th in the draft come June. That means the likely top-two picks, Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball, will be off the board and the Knicks will possibly, be left with a choice of Dennis Smith Jr., Frank Ntilikina, and De’Aaron Fox.

Look if you were to ask me who’s the most exciting to watch its Smith hands down. With his array of dribble moves, at the rim athleticism and passing ability, he’ll have no problem finding offensive success at the next level.

Ntilikina probably has the best toolset, although he needs the most work. With a giant 6’9″ wingspan, professional European experience, and a solid 3pt shot, you could make a great argument for Frank as the Knicks Point Guard of the future. Not to mention the European connection to Porzingis, not that matters anymore, Pozingod is a true New Yorker now.

That brings us to Fox. I’ll be the first to admit I was not a fan of Fox at the beginning of the year. Sure he was a blur on the court, but he lacked offensive punch and his defense was inconsistent at best. Fast forward to the end of the year and he was not only a speed demon but an offensive dynamo who aggressively took the fight to Lonzo Ball and UCLA to the tune of 39 points.

So what changed?

Well, for one the aggressive play particularly when looking to create his own shot, yes everyone saw it in the UCLA game, but Fox was the key cog for Kentucky during SEC play, not Malik Monk. Fox’s quickness and ability to score in transition will be huge for a Knicks team that again ranked in the bottom-10 in transition points per game.

I also think that Fox’s length plus quickness give him the highest defensive upside of any Point Guard of this group. Yes, Ntilikina is bigger, but Fox is faster and has already shown glimpses of being a defensive pest.

Now the obvious concern with Fox is his jumper. Having connected on less than 30% of his three pointers and with the move to the NBA, three point line don’t expect this to change anytime soon. However, he did show a feel for a pull-up jumper so the spacing that is provided in the NBA game combined with his speed could help become an effective mid-range shooter early on.

The bottom line is the Knicks need to win, winning starts with defense. Yes, he can’t shoot threes, yet, but Porzingis will help cover that up. Fox gives the Garden the best shot at hanging a banner or heck, making the playoffs anytime soon.

Give me a follow on Twitter if this was even quasi-interesting @NBADraftWhiz.

Here are Eight NBA Prospects to Watch at the Final Four!

By Jack Drapkin

We made it. It’s a bittersweet time of year for many college basketball fans as the Final Four is here but so is the end of the college basketball season. For us at Talking Ball, this is going to mark the beginning of a ramp up in NBA Draft content. We’re going to begin with a pair of prospects from each remaining Final Four team.

North Carolina vs Oregon

I spent the time before the Tournament began on the underrated Theo Pinson. Now I’m going to talk about the two star players for UNC;  Joel Berry and Justin Jackson.
Berry has been battling an ankle injury throughout the tournament and may be limited in the Final Four. If so, that would be a major issue for North Carolina against a strong Oregon squad. He’s been the engine for this team all season long and the starter of its offense. Even if his defense is so-so, his ability to create his own shot and create for others (3.6 apg) is a must for Carolina.

Justin Jackson is the best pro prospect on Carolina for my money due to a combination of size (6’8”, 210lbs) and shooting ability (38% from deep this season). Recently named to the AP All-American First-Team, Jackson has delivered on much of his promise his junior season. However, it was his defensive intensity on Malik Monk that has me very excited about his pro potential.

Speaking of DEFENSE, WOW Jordan Bell has been putting on a show throughout the tournament huh?! Bell led Oregon to the Final Four with a monster eight block performance. He is a classic rim-to-rim center who makes his mark as a finisher on offense and as a guy who can not only protect the rim but also switch onto smaller players on defense.

Dillon Brooks put himself on the national map with his performance and postgame interaction against Duke in last year’s Sweet 16 but cemented himself as an NBA prospect this season. As a tweener forward, he can thank guys like Draymond Green for paving a path for NBA success. Brooks who had a slow start to the season coming off an injury improved his 3pt shot from 34% to 41% his junior season. Brooks is unquestionably the leader of this Oregon team and for them to move on expect a big performance out of him.

Gonzaga vs. South Carolina

Two surprises in the Final Four, one from a seeding perspective in South Carolina and another in the expectation realm with Gonzaga. The Gamecocks have two clear cut NBA prospects in Sindarius Thornwell and PJ Dozier, with a third Rakym Felder, who may turn out to be the best prospect on this team in a few years. However, the focus here is on Thornwell and Dozier.

Thornwell has been the star of the team all season en route to being named SEC Player of the Year. Able to score his points all over the court, he is a gritty player who makes plays on both ends of the court.

Dozier came into South Carolina a high-profile recruit who struggled a bit with the defensive expectations of Frank Martin his freshman campaign. Well, his numbers are up across the board and as a 6’6” ball-handler he could become a real problem at the net level if he figures out his three point shot (30%).

The Zags play a solid nine-man rotation and there are a handful of prospects one could discuss here but I am going to focus on Nigel Williams-Goss and Zach Collins here.

Williams-Goss a transfer from Washington, indicating the power of the Gonzaga program, has emerged as the primary playmaker for this team with averages of 17 ppg and 4.5 assists. With good height for the point guard position at 6’3” and a 6’6” wingspan he has the intriguing combination of size and playmaking that NBA teams covet.

Zach Collins, a rare McDonald’s All-American at Gonzaga, has been rising draft boards throughout the entire season. Coming off the bench behind the massive Przemek Karnowski, Collins has stymied the opposition with 10 points and six boards a game in only 17 minutes of court time. Buoyed by a strong basketball IQ and knack for putting the ball on the floor at 7′ tall, he is an intriguing NBA prospect to keep an eye at this year’s Final Four.

4 ACC NBA Prospects to Watch in March Madness

By Jack Drapkin

North Carolina

Justin Jackson, Joel Berry and the Carolina Bigs get all the attention but I want you to pay attention to Theo Pinson.

Pinson is a bit unconventional as he is only about 6’4-6’5, but plays a lot at the 3 and 4 positions. He’s able to get away with it because of two things, extreme athleticism and a high basketball iq. Specificially I would bookmark Pinson for two things this tournament. One a highlight real dunk and two average four assists a game.

Pinson is  a ridiculously smart player who is one of those guys who always ends up near the ball. Not to mention he is also the teams best perimeter defender. He is often tasked with trailing the opposing team’s best player around. Not only is he usually successful but it is definitely something he prides himself in.

Theo Pinson should stay in school for his senior year but is a good candidate to be drafted in the 2018 NBA Draft. He has the potential the to be Andre Iguodala-like.

Duke

Well if you talk about North Carolina you better discuss Duke, and so in a similar vein as Pinson here’s a guy who to watch for in the 2018 NBA Draft, Frank Jackson.

Jackson, a freshman, has emerged at the at the end of the season as he was given the opportunity to start when Grayson Allen was out with an injury against Miami. Since then he has averaged 15 points a game and broke the 20 point barrier twice.

Frank gets his buckets two ways, agressive drives to the basket and a streaky three point jumper. Watch out when he hits one early, he’s usually in for a good game so long as…he stays out of foul trouble. When he has been able to stay on the court, he has scored the ball. Simple.

Notre Dame

The sweet-shooting V.J. Beachem is the first guy to mention that will be in contention for the 2017 NBA Draft as he is a senior this year. Beachem really struggled in the first game of the tourney against Providence going 1-9 from the field. If Notre Dame is to beat West Virginia, Beachem will have to shoot the ball much better. I suspect he will. Of the six times this season Beachem failed to score double figure points, five of them he responded with a double digit output the next game.

The thing that could make Beachem stick at the next level is his sneaky athleticism. Known as a shooter Beachem, has shown the ability to dunk all over someone when given an opportunity.

Virgina

Lots of the buzz at the end of the season has been on Kyle Guy and for good reason. He is not a typical Virginia player in the sense that he can create his own offense. I think Guy is going to be a really good player maybe even as soon as next year, but the guy to watch this tournament is Isaiah Wilkins.

Yes Wilkins, is related to that Wilkins, but he is a totally different player, except they share one thing, elite athleticism. Wilkins a post player, is constantly in the right places with his defensive rotations and is one of the few players in the country to average a steal and a block per game.

I expect Wilkins, a junior, to declare for the 2018 NBA Draft and is a guy who could make a difference at the next level as an athletic, defensive playmaker.