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The Ceiling is the Roof: Comparing Draft Prospects to Current NBA Players

Comparing Draft Prospects to Current NBA Players Debu Das/ Via


Comparing Draft Prospects to Current NBA Players

While most scouts around the NBA focus on college statistics and mock drafts boards, most of them seem to ignore potential in favor of current talent and measurable skill. We gave each prospect a ceiling and a floor of current NBA players to guess just how successful they could (or could not) be in the NBA. Obviously, it’s impossible to predict exactly what level a prospect’s game will translate to in the NBA, so we could see any of these prospects turn out much better or worse than their NBA benchmarks. Wait no longer. Comparing Draft Prospects to Current NBA Players begins now:

Markelle Fultz, PG, Washington

Fultz is one of, if not the most intriguing members of the 2017 draft class for a few reasons. First of all, as with every other top 10 prospect this year, accolades and highlights from high school and a single year of college make up Fultz’s track record. Secondly, only Lonzo Ball rivaled Fultz’s ability to bend the game to his will this past season. Dennis Schroder came into the league after playing for three seasons in Germany and none in college yet the Atlanta Hawks picked him 17th overall. Damian Lillard played all four seasons in college but was out of the spotlight at mid-major university Weber State.

Ceiling: Damian Lillard

Floor: Dennis Schroder

Fultz has displayed crazy good playmaking skills in limited samples, similar to Dame and Schroder, the difference, however, is Dame’s ability to do what he wants, when he wants, and he knows how to handle the big stage spotlight. Schroder needs a bit more help and experience before he can become the sole leader of a team, a role he currently shares with Paul Millsap in Atlanta, though he is getting closer and closer each year.

Despite the relatively weak competition he faced in college and the lack of success Washington had (9-22) in his only college season, Fultz displayed the rare ability to control the game on offense and defense however he wished, something only a handful of players in the NBA have shown. Within reason, the best case scenario for the phenom Fultz is a franchise player with a team who runs their offense through him, and his ability to score at will translates easily from college to the NBA. Worst case scenario? Despite his offensive skillset and high basketball IQ, Fultz can never get out of the shadow of a few star teammates (i.e., Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford) and will always be second-best, no matter how many All-star teams he makes.

Lonzo Ball, PG, UCLA

When people talk about who’s the flashiest and most publicized prospect in the draft this year, there’s only one answer. Lonzo Ball. Between his talent and his father’s big mouth, there haven’t been too many times when the entire Ball family was not in the public spotlight. Ball’s draft stock rose tremendously near the end of his only season at UCLA so much that some people around the NBA even have him surpassing Fultz as the first overall pick. While this isn’t a debate about who will go number one overall, it’s important to note that no one has come into the league with this much fanfare in a while (LeBron James, Blake Griffin, John Wall).

Ceiling: James Harden

Floor: Victor Oladipo

Ball is by far the best passer in the draft and is also a prolific point guard that can make everyone on his team better. He’s someone who I could see putting up many triple-doubles in the NBA with his ability to score, rebound and assist.

The best case scenario for Ball is pretty simple, he lives up to the hype and becomes one of the faces of his generation. Like Harden, he’s built more like a shooting guard but prefers to play the point (Harden transitioned to PG thanks to Houston coach Mike D’Antoni last season), and he knows when to shoot versus when to pass. He does his best work when the ball is in his hands, and as a bonus, they both have abnormal looking jump shots. Harden’s is courtesy of him being left-handed, and Ball’s well, we’re not sure where he got it, but it works, and that’s what matters.

Oladipo has solid scoring and passing skills and has proven himself to be a consistently reliable player in the NBA. He would arguably start on almost every team in the NBA, but he’s more of a stud and less of a star. That could be exactly where Lonzo ends up in the league, especially if he doesn’t bulk up and his shot does not transfer well to the professional level. Given the right stage (Lakers) and players surrounding him to help him continue to develop his game, Ball could silence the haters and potentially be a perennial MVP candidate for years to come.

Jayson Tatum, SF, Duke

After a rocky start to his only college season marred by injuries, Tatum steadily improved his play each week. Playing in the ACC, the toughest conference in college basketball, Tatum was able to help lead Duke to an ACC championship and a disappointing but hard-fought defeat in the round of 32 to defensive-minded South Carolina. Tatum’s best qualities are his scoring ability and his basketball IQ, while his questionable areas include defense (not bad, just unproven) and intangibles, where we weren’t given a big enough sample size to make any judgment.

Ceiling: Carmelo Anthony

Floor: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

As a Duke fan, it pains me to compare the talented and promising Tatum to a player like MKG, who doesn’t really do anything great, yet does a lot of things well, but that’s a reasonable possibility for Tatum.  Tatum has the potential to develop into a Carmelo-type scorer who can hurt you in a variety of ways on the offensive end. While he could also develop other parts of his game to become stronger than Melo is in certain areas, his overall ceiling is about on par with Anthony’s skill level in the prime of his career. Worst case scenario, he’s a career role player who breaks out for 30 points here and there and never really develops into the star so many people think he could be.

Josh Jackson, SF, Kansas

Jackson developed a reputation as an excellent defender at Kansas, and although he isn’t the best shooter, he could still average double figures in his first few seasons with the right team. He shot an average 51.3% during his only college season, yet was viewed as one of the most impactful players in the country, right up there with Fultz and Ball. If he can get his priorities straight and cut down on the off-the-court distractions, he could be in line for a very successful NBA career.

Ceiling: Jimmy Butler

Floor: Michael Beasley

If Jackson can improve his offensive game to match his defensive prowess, he could produce Jimmy Butler-like results, someone who wasn’t as highly touted for his offense as he was his defense but worked hard to become the two-way phenom that he is today. He might never be the best player on any team, but it’s far from impossible. If the off-the-court problems don’t stop and he doesn’t put as much work in as he can, he’ll be a career-long 6th man or worse who’s mainly known for his defense and below-average shooting abilities.

Jonathan Isaac, SF, Florida State

A few NBA scouts described Jonathan Isaac as a “physical freak,” which immediately puts The Greek Freak himself in your mind. He’s a 6’10 project with a 7’1 wingspan who blocked 49 shots in just one season at FSU. His athletic ability and size combo is a rare find in the NBA these days and, with the right team and coaching staff around him, he could make a splash in many ways, not just scoring the ball.

Ceiling: Giannis Antetokounmpo

Floor: Shabazz Muhammad

If Isaac has the time to develop and learn from older players in the NBA, he could be a dominant force on both offense and defense who people move away from when he attacks the basket. While Giannis himself is still refining his game, these two physical freaks could one day make for one of the most intriguing matchups in the NBA. Much like Shabazz, Isaac is a project as I mentioned earlier. What happens when a gamble doesn’t pay off? You average 9 ppg in 18.5 mpg after Minnesota drafts you 14th overall. Minnesota has the 7th pick in this year’s draft and you know they like to gamble on projects (Muhammad, Rubio, Jonny Flynn, Derrick Williams), so look for them to target Isaac if he’s still available.

De’Aaron Fox, PG, Kentucky

Fox’s passing and driving abilities are among the top of any prospect in this year’s draft. Like Reggie Jackson (47.4%) and John Wall (43.3%), however, he’s not the best shooter (47.9%). His speed is comparable to the likes of Wall and Russell Westbrook, while his inside scoring ability is impressive, especially for a player with only one year of college experience. Fox, again like Wall and Jackson, also lacks range from beyond the arc, and should make that one of his primary focuses once he gets into the practice gym with whatever NBA team he ends up with.

Ceiling: John Wall

Floor: Reggie Jackson

Fox’s passing and flashiness couple with his speed and breakaway ability draw easy comparisons to John Wall, a highly successful PG who also is not the best shooter, but makes up for it by driving to the basket with ease and being so much faster than everyone else on the court. The worst case scenario for Fox is he lands on a team that already has an established point guard and does not get as much playing time as a player like him might require to develop his game fully. He will either be a league leader in assists in a few years or find himself a nice role player spot, starting on a bad team or coming off the bench for a good one.

Lauri Markkanen, PF, Arizona

A good shooter for his size (7’0), Markkanen was among the most efficient offensive players in the country last season. The big man from Finland shot 49% from the field and 42% from deep, following the latest and greatest trend of big men who can shoot ridiculously well. Markkanen made his Second Division debut for BC Jyvaskyla and more than held his own at the age of 15.  He had a career scoring average of 15.6 points per game over 41% shooting from beyond the arc in international play.

No one would have thought twice if Markkanen had declared for the draft when he was eligible last season after he averaged 21.6 ppg and 7.6 rpg for Helsinki Basketball Academy in Finland’s Second Division. Instead, he opted to go and play under Sean Miller in the NCAA, which raised his NBA Draft immensely when he made the transition to college basketball look easy.

Ceiling: Chris Bosh

Floor: Ryan Anderson

With his shooting ability and raw skill, he could become two types of players in the NBA. There’s the shooting big-man who can also dominate in the post (Bosh) and who could potentially become an All-Star down the road. There’s also the shooting big man who can shoot but not much else (Anderson). Even if he isn’t able to expand his game into a Chris Bosh/Zach Randolph type forward, he’ll still hold much value for any team as a big man with top tier shooting range and experience playing at every level of professional basketball.

Malik Monk, SG, Kentucky

Malik Monk was one of the harder prospects on this list for me to evaluate. A point guard at Kentucky, he’ll likely play shooting guard in the NBA due to his inherent lack of ball-handling and passing skills. While his ability to put the ball in the basket is second-best in this draft only to Markelle Fultz, Monk also lacks the size at 6’3 to guard a lot of the NBA’s premier two-guards who will be at least 2-3 inches taller than him. If he can make up for what he lacks in passing and defense with a high scoring output in his first few seasons while he works on the other aspects of his game, Monk could become one of the best all-around offensive SGs in the league one day.

Ceiling: Kemba Walker

Floor: George Hill

The best case scenario for Monk is he proves that his scoring in Kentucky’s high-powered offense was no fluke and that he can get it done on the big stage too. Kemba is known less for his passing as a point guard and more for his scoring, as will Monk as a potential starting SG next season. At the worst, his ability to score is not enough to make up for his lack of passing and handles, which he takes a significant amount of time to develop, and he is a career role player coming off the bench after his prime years have passed.

Dennis Smith Jr., PG, NC State

At a glance, you already have questions about both of my comparisons for Dennis Smith Jr. Hear me out. In one rocky season at NC State, Smith averaged 18.1 ppg, 6.2 apg, 4.5 rpg, 1.9 spg and one fired head coach per season while being an explosively dominant force who fearlessly slashed to the rim at will. Sound like anyone we know? While there’s no way he’ll be anywhere near Westbrook level at first, that type of production and finishing ability mixed with determination to score at will could propel him to numbers and performances that resemble those of Brodie before too long.

Ceiling: Russell Westbrook

Floor: Zach LaVine

As I said, the best case scenario for Smith is that he works the kinks out of his game and shows no ill effects of the torn ACL he suffered last year while showing that the promising playmaking skills he showed at NC State are here to stay. Smith can become a dominant force in the league and a franchise PG, with a bit of work. Worst case scenario is his below-average shooting tendency to turn the ball over overshadow his potential, and he is doomed to be a backup who leaves people imagining what could have been. Bonus points because Zach LaVine also tore his ACL, and will look to make his return next season, as Smith did this past season at NC State.

Zach Collins, C, Gonzaga

Collins played significant minutes during Gonzaga’s cinderella-ish run to the NCAA Tournament Finals this past season, but he didn’t get a ton of burn before the tournament. He averaged 10ppg and 5.9 rpg in about 17 minutes/game in his only season at Gonzaga. However, he did have the best games of his career in the Big Dance when the games mattered the most. There were questions about Collins‘ toughness and basketball IQ a few times last season, but his defense stayed solid, as he averaged almost two blocks per game.

Ceiling: Rudy Gobert

Floor: Cody Zeller

If Collins can prove that he’s NBA ready at the young age of 19, he could be a premiere scorer and rim defender who can anchor any team’s frontcourt. Gobert came into the league as a shot blocker, and his offensive skills came later, similar to what Collins will look to do. The late Charlotte Bobcats (now the Charlotte Hornets) drafted Cody Zeller, who played two seasons at Indiana, fourth overall in 2013. The once highly touted Zeller has not lived up to the hype, although he has been decently successful. Collins is a great fit for the Dallas Mavericks (9th pick) who currently list Nerlens Noel as their starting center and an aging Dirk Nowitzki at PF.

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