Waiting is tough. No one enjoys it. Especially if he’s waiting for his biggest dream to come true. A dream, that is most likely to change his life forever. That said, for some talents the NBA draft might feel like torture. Remember Bobby Portis? Having been projected a mid-lottery pick last year, he had to wait. And wait… And wait… until the Chicago Bulls finally selected him with the 22nd pick. You could almost feel Portis’ relief. Anxiety yielded, happiness kicked in. There he was, standing besides Commissioner Adam Silver, giving the audience the broadest of smiles.
The beauty of the NBA draft, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Year after year NBA franchises fulfill dreams. They present young people with a whole new life, with the chance to compete with the best. But the draft is not a one-way road. It’s not like, on draft night, franchises act purely in Mother Theresa’s spirit. They also hope to find someone to possibly change their own fate. Or a missing piece. Or someone they may use as an asset, in order to get whoever they have chosen to be their missing piece. Think of Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan – you name it – with those guys whole franchises left losing island and set sails to championship-ville.
And that’s probably exactly what the Philadelphia 76ers are hoping for on June 23rd. After years of trying, they finally did it. Finally Philly’s got the first pick. This time they can pick whoever they feel is the biggest talent available. This time the Sixers will pick ahead of the Lakers who won’t hold any grudge, since they would have lost their own pick to Philly, had it been outside the top 3. Philadelphia will also pick ahead of the Celtics who probably got die-hard fans of whoever faced the Brooklyn Nets. The reason? The Kevin Garnett trade. Now, three years later, it awards the Celtics with a top-3-pick – despite having reached the playoffs this season.
Following the top 3 there will be the Phoenix Suns, Minnesota, the Pelicans, the Denver Nuggets (who got their pick from the Knicks), Sacramento, the Toronto Raptors (who got their pick from the Nuggets), Milwaukee, Orlando, Utah, again Phoenix (who got the pick from the Wizards) and the Chicago Bulls. That’s the 2016 NBA draft lottery, ladies and gentlemen (baring any trades, of course).
So let’s have a look at the – maybe – most intriguing prospects
Ben Simmons (19 years old, SF/PF, LSU, Freshman, 6’10/2,08m, 240 lbs/109kg)
Going into the season there was no doubt whatsoever. Ben Simmons was going to be the number-1 pick. Some even compared the Australian to LeBron James or Magic Johnson. They saw the big frame. The passing abilities. The court vision. They saw a superstar. Well, Simmons couldn’t quite keep up with the – probably a bit premature – expectations. Sure, statistically his season at Louisiana State University wasn’t bad at all. His all-around numbers (19 points, 11 Rebounds, 4 Assists) were last matched by Ron Harper in 1986.
The problem: looking at LSU’s disappointing 19-14 record and, of course, the fact that they missed the NCAA tournament, those numbers appear a bit empty. And indeed, Simmons sometimes hesitated to take over when his team desperately needed a burst from its best player. He simply got neutralized by opponents backing up a little, daring him to shoot. Something he doesn’t like at all. Because, not being a decent jump-shooter, Simmons does not trust his shot at all. Not the best of flaws to have in today’s NBA. Especially since Simmons’ effort – or rather lack thereof -, especially on defense, raised some questions about his overall approach to the game.
So why is this 19-year old from down under still considered a save top-3 if not number-1 pick? Well, because there mos’ def(-initely) are many things that make Ben Simmons a pretty intriguing prospect for almost any franchise in need of superior talent. First off, he combines athleticism, speed, body control and a feel for any different kind of speed with tremendous ball-handling, passing ability and outstanding court vision. All of which in a 6’10, 240 pound frame. Oh and have we talked about Simmons’ great instincts for rebounds and steals, about his soft touch around the rim, his creativity, his devastating operations in mid-post isolations. No? Well, now we have.
Still, Simmons is a bit of a mixed back. Questions around his drive and passion arose. Yet, there is so much upside, that there is still a pretty decent chance that Commissioner Adam Silver will open the 2016 draft by saying “With the first pick, the Philadelphia 76ers select… Ben Simmons from Louisiana State University”.
Team: The Sixers have the first draft pick and will probably snatch Simmons off the board. But their current front court personnel suggests that they would be better off taking someone who can spread the floor. With big men Okafor, Noel and Embiid clogging the paint, Ingram is the better fit for them. But are the Sixers bold enough to pass up on the best talent in the draft? We seriously doubt it. We rather expect them to ship out overlapping personnel to make room for Simmons’ playing style and let him roam free.
Brandon Ingram (18years old, SF, Duke, Freshman, 6-9 ft/2,06 m, 195 lbs/88 kg)
What happens if, you shoot up 8 inches from 6’2 over four years? If you play the three and still look skinny? If you you’ve got a 7’3 wingspan and move very fluidly for a player that size? If you’re a reliable jump-shooter and creator? Well, then you’ll draw comparisons to a guy named Kevin Durant.
That’s exactly what happened to Brandon Ingram. We shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves, though. Ingram indeed shows some similarities to one of the best players we know today, on the other hand, comparisons like that do hardly ever play out well for a prospect. So let’s just say that everything Ingram brings to the table is very much intriguing. Ball-handling. Footwork. Attacks off the dribble. Crossovers. Passing. Unselfishness. You name it, Ingram’s got it.
What he doesn’t have, though, is strength. Still being skinny, in college Ingram had a bit of trouble finishing around the rim, dragging opponents to the basket, or holding up his position on defense. Speaking of which, his defense definitely needs some work – although his size, length and reach give Ingram some versatility NBA-teams should appreciate. They’d probably also appreciate Ingram getting stronger. Something that is far from impossible. Especially since everyone who has been around him praises his work ethic. That is only more intriguing since Ingram probably is still quite far from reaching his potential. A fact, that makes him a pretty solid bet for the number-2 pick – or even better.
Team: Ingram would fit in nicely with both the Lakers and the Sixers, but assuming the Sixers won’t pass up on Simmons, L.A. is probably where the youngster ends up. Paired with power forward Julius Randle who is more of a bruiser inside, Ingram could thrive in Luke Walton’s system which will look a lot like what the Warriors are running. Ball movement and spacing are key and a Russell/Ingram pick and roll could become impossible to defend for any team.
Buddy Hield (22 years old, SG, Oklahoma, Senior, 6-4 ft/1,93 m, 212 lbs/96 kg)
Some of you might have heard of Steph Curry. That guy who knows a thing or two about how to make a three. In 2008, Curry playing for Davidson, made 162 triples, a number that hasn’t been matched since. To be fair, Buddy Hield couldn’t keep up with the today two-time MVP either. With 147 made threes last season he came as close as no one has come since 2008, though. And what’s more – Hield converted 46 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. So apparently he, as well, knows a thing or two about how to make a triple.
You could also just say that Hield is a prolific scorer. Someone, who led Oklahoma to the Final Four, averaging 29 points. Someone, who’s got a quick release and doesn’t hesitate to take any shot – even with a hand in his face – which, in his case, is a good thing. Someone, who, thanks to good footwork, hesitation moves and fadeaways, knows how to create his own shot.
On the other hand, Hield can be a little predictable when putting the ball on the floor. That he’s lacking elite explosiveness doesn’t help solving the issue either, nor does his lack of advanced passing skills. Defensively, being only 6’4½, on NBA level Hield is exclusively tied to the two-spot which might shy away some teams. Yet, with Hield, teams know what they get. A great shooter. A great scorer who tops everything with some much praised work ethic.
Team: As soon as Simmons and Ingram are off the board the draft picture gets iffy. Who will go number 3 is anyone’s guess. But with the Celtics being in dire need of someone who can stretch the floor (28th in three point percentage this season) they will probably take a long look at Buddy Hield. He is as safe a bet as you can have in a draft full of uncertainty and would thrive in Brad Stevens’ high octane offense next to PGs Isaiah Thomas & Marcus Smart.
Jamal Murray (19 years old, PG/SG, Kentucky, Freshman, 6-4 ft/1,93 m, 207 lbs/94 kg)
Jamal Murray is an aggressive combo guard with a knack for scoring the ball. Even though he only spent one year in college he is a polished player who does not shy away from big moments while remaining calm in the clutch. He does a tremendous job of moving off the ball and is excellent in catch and shoot situations behind the three-point-line. But as a natural scorer Murray is just as capable scoring off the dribble as finishing at the rim. While not a high flyer, he uses the glass craftily in traffic with runners, floaters and off-hand finishes. Murray is as competitive as they come and has the confidence to keep shooting even if a couple of shots don’t fall.
That said, a combo guard should definitely be able to create for others as well as for himself. Undoubtedly Murray is a scorer first and not used to distributing the ball, which he has to learn given the fact that he is a bit undersized for the SG position. On defense he tends to lose focus off the ball. While on the ball he too often gambles for steals which opens the lane and puts his team in trouble.
Murray’s success in the big league depends on whether he can develop into a proper NBA point guard. Stuff you can get away with in college just won’t fly in the NBA. As of now he would be a perfect fit in a sixth-man slot as an instant-offense kinda guy like Jamal Crawford. Murray doesn’t need to dribble to get his shot off and won’t need plays run for him.
Team: Even though Kris Dunn might be the better player, Jamal Murray is the better fit for the Timberwolves because he can stretch the floor with his three point shooting ability which Minnesota needs desperately (next to last in three-pointers made). With the defense mainly focusing on Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, Murray would get a lot of open looks.
Kris Dunn (22 years old, PG, Providence, Junior, 6-4 ft/1,93 m, 220 lbs/100 kg)
Dunn is without question the best pure-bred Point Guard in the entire draft. He is a great playmaker off ball screens and in transition and has excellent size and athleticism. His ability to pass and create for his teammates is second to none in his class as he is especially adept to blowing by his man, getting into the lane, drawing defenders and finding shooters on the perimeter for wide open looks. But Dunn is also a dangerous scorer, particularly off the dribble with a quick & deadly pull-up jumper. He has got elite quickness and a lightning quick first step. His great leaping ability, strong core and body control allow him to finish at the rim through contact.
The big question: Can he stay healthy? He has had problems with his shoulder in his first two college seasons and the concerns about his health make him somewhat of a wild card. When he is healthy Dunn is not a good pick and roll facilitator often lacking the proper timing on when to deliver the ball to his roll man. He also needs to cut down on mental mistakes and lower his turnover ratio.
Dunn sometimes seems to be careless with the ball and while already being a great defender he tends to lose his edge off ball, where he often gets beat by back door cuts. It would be a good idea to surround him with an arsenal of corner shooters and jump shooting bigs that can stretch the lane for him. Once he gets in there Dunn wreaks havoc with precision passing and his ability to finish at the rim.
Team: If the Pelicans pick Dunn it is likely that he will take over the starting PG spot and they let Eric Gordon walk in free agency. Even more so, Dunn could blossom into an elite defender which goes a long way in a conference where the likes of Russell Westbrook, Steph Curry, or Damian Lillard play the same position. An Antonio Davis / Kris Dunn one-two-punch could become the next dynamic superstar duo in the NBA.
Jaylen Brown (19 years old, SF, California, Freshman, 6-7 ft/2,01 m, 223 lbs/101 kg)
Physically Jaylen Brown is more than ready to play in the NBA. He is not only very strong for a rookie but incredibly athletic as well, capable of outmuscling defenders in the post as well as blowing by them in the lane. His combination of strength and speed is rare and will make him a permanent resident in weekly highlight reels. He can finish plays around the rim with contact at a very high rate and is especially good at splitting defenders. The 19-year-old has flashed the potential of becoming a versatile all-around player who can guard multiple positions. In small ball situations he is strong enough to play some power forward.
His jumpshot needs to be more consistent though. Both in converting opportunities as well as mechanics. His shooting form often seems to change mid-game leading to erratic results. He is also turnover-prone and shows defensive lapses both off the ball where he gets lost in screens and on the ball where he gets burned trying to go for steals. His ballhandling and passing is below average.
Brown has all the physical tools to become a great NBA wing, but he needs to improve on the mental side of the game and as a shooter. For now, teams would be best served to get him in a situation where he is surrounded with players that can stretch the floor for him as he needs room to drive and operate inside. He will struggle from outside in his rookie season as defenders realize they can leave him open until his shots fall with more consistency.
Team: It’s hard to imagine the Denver Nuggets will pass on the chance to add a young athletic wing to their roster, even though it will be tough for Brown to crack the starting rotation with Kenneth Faried and Danilo Gallinari in the frontcourt who are both experienced and – if healthy – All-Star caliber players. However for Brown it’s the perfect situation to come off the bench with less pressure and more opportunity to learn. Given the fact that his and Farried’s talents mostly overlap, he will probably start the season as his backup.
Skal Labissiere (20 years old, PF/C, Kentucky, Freshman 7-0 ft/2,13 m, 215 lbs/98 kg)
Three words: Seven foot shooter. Skal Labissiere has outstanding shooting mechanics with terrific balance, footwork and touch no matter where on the floor. He is able to create separation through shot fakes and step backs like a guard and elevate off the dribble while shooting with an unblockable high release point. His broad shoulders and solid legs indicate that he will grow into his still fragile frame over time. He runs the floor like a deer and can make plays on both ends of the court. Combined with his soft hands, Labissiere makes a great target for lobs and cuts and is able to finish with purpose. Armed with excellent timing and a 7-2 wingspan he has all the ingredients for an elite rim protector.
If there’s such a thing, Skal is too nice though. The lack of a mean streak and a frail confidence suggests that he is not ready to play among grown NBA players. The physical strength can be worked on, but the mental strength has to come from a strong motor and the will to become better. He has to shed his image of being soft quickly if he wants to be successful in the NBA.
Labissiere is a project with tremendous upside but a project nonetheless. He only started to play basketball in the eighth grade and it shows. Beyond shooting, his skills are raw and his basketball instincts are still underdeveloped. He needs an environment that won’t pressure him to be a star right away. The talent is there but he needs time to gain experience and learn what it means to be a professional basketball player and work on his craft on a daily basis.
Team: Even though the Sacramento Kings already have DeMarcus Cousins, a big man that can shoot the basketball, they might feel inclined to try to build up a twin tower combination. Ideally it is with someone who can move to the wing and allow Cousins to reign in the paint. Labissiere fits the description perfectly and a potential high-low game with these two has the Kings dreaming. However Skal is not a plug&play kind of player. He needs time to develop and we wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Kings front office can’t pull the trigger on this one and make a safer choice.
Deyonta Davis (19 years old, PF/C, Michigan State, Freshman, 6-11 ft/2,11 m, 237 lbs/108 kg)
Deyonta Davis is one of only a handful of players which come into the draft with a pro-ready body. He is extremely fluid and athletic and has the quickness to keep up with smaller players on the perimeter. Davis runs like a wing and would have no problem playing in an uptempo system. He is most effective at scoring around the rim and can finish with either hand. Lobs and post ups are the main source of his offensive production. He is strong enough to pound with bigger players than him and versatile enough to play either the four or small ball five. His shooting mechanics are solid and lead to believe he can turn his jumper into a viable weapon over time.
While Davis undoubtedly has the physical tools to be a future NBA Star, his skill level is not quite there yet to put it mildly. His post game is one-dimensional making his moves predictable and his range does not extend to more than a couple of feet away from the rim. On defense he seems to be too eager to make the highlight block and bites on pump fakes too often, which leads to fouls and losing valuable playing time.
Potential is the key word when it comes to Deyonta Davis and it looks like his upside alone will make him a lottery pick. 5 years from now people could talk about him as the steal of the draft. Or he could be out of the league playing in China. You just never know how things play out. Can Davis turn his raw talents into NBA-ready skills? Depending on where he gets picked it’s a risk worth taking. At 10 with the Bucks he would get some playing time while not being depended on to put up big numbers right away.
Team: The Milwaukee Bucks have every position covered with young, talented and athletic players and their frontline with Parker, Antetokounmpo and Monroe looks solid as a rock. Still, if Davis is still available, it would be foolish not to take the best remaining player and worry where to play him later. After all, situations can change quickly and if Davis really does develop into a future All-Star and warrants more playing time, it’s a nice problem to have. For now the 19-year-old power forward can come off the bench and do the only thing that rookies are supposed to do which is LEARN.
International prospects, anybody?
Dragan Bender (18 years old, PF, Maccabi Tel Aviv, 7-1 ft/2,16m, 225 lbs/102kg )
Skilled European Big Man are the NBA’s new black. Kristaps Porzingis, anyone? So, if a franchise
discovers a sevenfooter who’s got the potential to being a decent three-point shooter, who has impressive passing skills and courtvision, who is quick in transition, and a defender, who should be able to switch pick-and-rolls, they are intrigued. If, on top, they feel a shot-blocking threat come along, then you have a top prospect. That’s exactly why some see Dragan Bender as a safe lottery, maybe even a top-3 pick. Although the 18-year old – quite understandably – still has some flaws in his game.
Jakob Pöltl (20 years old, C, Utah, Sophomore, 7-1 ft/2,16m, 239 lbs/108kg)
Looking at the NBA’s world map, Austria just wasn’t there. None of our beloved neighbors has ever played in the Association. Well, that is supposed to change! Thanks, Jakob Pöltl! Winning Pac-12 Player of the Year as well as the Kareem-Abdul-Jabbar and Pete-Newell Big Man awards, the center is very likely to be picked before the lottery hits double digits. A sevenfooter with an impressive combination of size and athleticism, thanks to his footwork and simple but effective moves, the Austrian knows how to score with his back to the basket. Pöltl might lack some long-term upside, but his solid, effective game should be enough for a franchise to go all in on him. And come on, he’s from Austria!
Paul Zipser (22 years old, SF, Bayern Munich, 6-8 ft/2,03m, 210 lbs/)5kg)
Ok, he’s not one of the top international prospects. He might even have to wait for the second round to be selected. But, heck, Paul Zipser gets the Nowitzki-country bonus. And rightfully so. I mean, he is probably the biggest wing talent we have had in years. Zipser is athletic, a decent defender with a soft touch from deep. He’s got experience, played in the Euroleague and European championships, and, with his good size, long arms and strong body has definitely got good role-player potential. Oh, and did I mention that he just got named MVP of the Adidas Eurocamp? His journey is definitely one worth following.
The 2016 draft again offers this intriguing combination of great talent, interesting stories and, of course, hopeful waiting. There even might be some wild trading going on. It’s going to be crazy. Exciting. Touching. Sometimes sad. Bobby Portis might be watching as well. This time a lot calmer though.