Some of the top projected prospects in the 2016 NBA draft are getting set to play on the NCAA’s biggest stage. It’s time to take a closer look at how their strengths and weaknesses translate to the NBA level.
Finding pro comparisons for these youngsters is an inexact science, and in hindsight, the analogies are often inadequate. But they give us a visual idea of what the draftees could look like down the road.
We matched up the top 10 prospects in the NCAA tournament with NBA comparisons, basing the pairings more on style of play rather than anticipated stat production. The criteria we used to generate our correlations includes player size, playing style/movements, potential skills, role and impact:
10. Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame PG (6’1″, Junior)
2015-16 Stats: 35.6 MPG, 15.5 PPG, 4.8 APG, 44% FG, 32% 3FG
Comparison: Eric Bledsoe (Upside)/Jonny Flynn (Downside)
There’s no guarantee Demetrius Jackson will excel in the NBA. Players of his diminutive stature need to attack with precision, create for teammates, knock down open shots and hold their own against bigger opponents defensively. There’s little margin for error.
If he can accomplish that, his playing style and production will resemble Bledsoe, the Phoenix Suns’ explosive two-way standout. Both use electrifying agility to compete against taller players, and they have the tools to play stout on-ball defense.
However, if he can’t consistently create for teammates or score efficiently, Brandon Jefferson of NBADraft.net offered a downside comparison to Jonny Flynn. The Syracuse product and Minnesota Timberwolves draftee didn’t amount to much other than a streaky scorer and inconsistent defender.
9. Denzel Valentine, Michigan State G (6’6″, Senior)
2015-16 Stats: 32.8 MPG, 19.4 PPG, 7.6 APG, 46% FG, 45% 3FG
Comparison: Poorman’s Deron Williams
Although Valentine’s foot speed and shiftiness with the ball aren’t at D-Will’s level (in his prime), he shares several positive qualities with the fellow Big Ten product.
He changes direction and speeds superbly, sees the floor better than 99 percent of college guards and has a strong frame that helps him on both ends. And as a scorer, Valentine’s stop-and-pop talent and catch-and-shoot delivery are quite similar to Williams’. Don’t expect Valentine to reach Williams’ All-Star and Olympic pedigree, but he’ll become an above-average combo guard with similar strengths.
8. Skal Labissiere, Kentucky PF/C (7’0″, Freshman)
2015-16 Stats: 15.6 MPG, 6.5 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 1.6 BPG, 52% FG
Comparison: Serge Ibaka
Ibaka isn’t a carbon-copy comparison, but he’s the type of player Labissiere can become once he gets stronger. Both have terrific horizontal and vertical agility to fuel their shot-blocking talent. On offense, they prefer to shoot mid-range jumpers rather than attack with post-ups. However, they can score above the rim emphatically on put-backs and fast breaks.
Maxwell Ogden of Hoopshabit.com explains that Labissiere’s strengths and weaknesses are similar to the Oklahoma City Thunder mainstay:
…Serge Ibaka is looking like a more realistic comparison (for Labissiere). Like Ibaka, Labissiere is a dominant shot-blocker who can shoot from anywhere, but lacks ideal presence on the glass.
The much-hyped Kentucky freshman has been the most enigmatic and frustrating prospect in this draft class because he’s fallen short of expectations. But he’s offered glimpses of effective two-way play, and that could lead to an Ibaka-esque impact.
7. Ivan Rabb, California PF (6’10”, Freshman)
2015-16 Stats: 28.4 MPG, 12.5 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 62% FG
Comparison: Blend of Chris Bosh/Ed Davis
Rabb is the type of prospect who doesn’t wow you with explosiveness or dynamic moves, but rather with a promising mix of blue-collar work and inside-out fundamentals.
I can’t take credit for the connection to Bosh (his ceiling) and Davis (his floor). Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report nailed this comparison:
Like Ed Davis, a worst-case-outcome comparison, Rabb projects as a big who can provide interior activity in the form of finishing, crashing the glass and shot-blocking…But we’ve also seen flashes of offensive skill, from his back-to-the-basket moves to his touch at the high post and elbows. The fact that he’s hit 27 of his first 36 free throws (75 percent) suggests promising shooting potential.
6. Jakob Poeltl, Utah C (7’1″, Sophomore)
2015-16 Stats: 30.4 MPG, 17.6 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 1.6 BPG, 66% FG
Comparison: Andrew Bogut
This may sound like a cop-out, lazy comparison because of the Utah connection, but it’s legitimate. The similarities are real.
A 7-footer with good (but not elite) end-to-end athleticism? Check.
Solid low-post footwork on both ends? Check.
Effectively battles for position and controls the paint on defense and glass? Check.
Soft touch around the rim? Check.
Great passer for a big man? Check.
5. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma SG (6’5″, Senior)
2015-16 Stats: 35.0 MPG, 25.0 PPG, 2.1 APG, 50% FG, 46% 3FG
Comparison: Blend of Ben Gordon/Jodie Meeks
Hield’s on-ball skills will translate to a Gordon type, and his off-guard prowess looks a lot like Meeks. It’s not an All-Star combination, but both of those players were highly productive in their primes.
The Sooners stud is much improved as a ball-handler and shot-creator, but he’s still in the “good-but-not-great” category by NBA standards. Like Gordon, he’ll shake free for pull-up jumpers and sporadically attack the hoop as a decent athlete. Meanwhile, his catch-and-shoot footwork and lightning-quick delivery closely resemble Meeks, who could explode from beyond the arc on any given night.
4. Jamal Murray, Kentucky G (6’5″, Freshman)
2015-16 Stats: 35.2 MPG, 20.1 PPG, 2.1 APG, 46% FG, 42% 3FG
Comparison: Blend of Brandon Roy/J.J. Redick
This is a ceiling/best-case blend for Murray. If you combined a shorter version of Roy with Redick’s off-ball sharpshooting, that’s what Murray could attain.
Roy generated a ton of offense for himself and teammates without being a premier athlete. Murray has the handles, vision and scoring touch to eventually become a comparable weapon. It’s even more evident that he’ll, at least, serve as a dangerous floor spacer, operating with similar size and off-ball skills as Los Angeles Clippers marksman J.J. Redick.
3. Jaylen Brown, California F (6’7″, Freshman)
2015-16 Stats: 27.9 MPG, 15.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 44% FG, 30% 3FG
Comparison: Blend of DeMar DeRozan/Stanley Johnson
Brown loves to constantly attack the hoop with his elite leaping ability and body control. His penchant for slashing from the wing rather than shooting from deep looks a lot like DeRozan. It took the Raptors star a while to develop his perimeter scoring skills (18 percent from three-land in college at USC), and it looks like that will be the case for Brown (30 percent at California).
Brown’s two-way strength and ball-handling also mirrors Stanley Johnson’s pretty closely. They both had NBA-ready bodies entering college, and like Johnson, Brown shouldn’t have trouble handling the physical aspect of the league from day one.
2. Kris Dunn, Providence PG (6’4″, Junior)
2015-16 Stats: 33.0 MPG, 16.0 PPG, 6.4 APG, 2.5 SPG, 44% FG, 34% 3FG
Comparison: Poor-man’s John Wall
Providence’s speedy dime-dropper has a cadence and overall repertoire that looks a lot like the Washington Wizards’ star. Dunn is exceptionally shifty at the point of attack, and he loves to burst to the hoop or zip perfectly-timed passes to teammates. His pick-and-roll mastery reminds me of Wall, and Dunn also share’s his early-career struggles as an outside shooter.
While Dunn isn’t quite as explosive or agile as the three-time All-Star, he’s certainly a top-tier athlete. He has quick hands on defense like Wall, and he can also turn open-court acceleration into vertical bounce at times.
1. Brandon Ingram, Duke F (6’9″, Freshman)
2015-16 Stats: 34.2 MPG, 16.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 44% FG, 41% 3FG
Comparison: Blend of Tayshaun Prince/Kevin Durant
Let’s be clear: Even in a best-case scenario, Ingram won’t likely reach KD’s stratosphere. But given what we’ve seen so far at Duke, he could become a similar-style player. Ingram uses his tremendous length to shoot over opponents, finish with either hand and pull-up from mid-range off pump-fakes and mid-post turnarounds. People with his body dimensions and skill sets are extremely rare.
There’s also a lot of Tayshaun Prince in Ingram’s frame and game. He’s ultra-slender like the former Detroit Pistons champion, and there’s also a calmness and smoothness to his game because he doesn’t let opponents speed him up.