We’re smack dab in the middle of conference play in college basketball, so Today’s Fastbreak draft experts Daniel O’Brien, Joseph Nardone and Ben Stram decided to have a little discussion about the 2016 NBA Draft and how some of the top prospects are doing.
Daniel: Let’s jump-start this chat with the draft treasure everyone’s talking about: LSU’s Aussie phenom Ben Simmons.
Are there any scenarios you envision where he doesn’t land No. 1? He’s a brilliant, agile playmaker at 6’10”, but the shaky/non-existent perimeter shooting could make him less-than-optimal for some lottery teams’ lineups. N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Duke’s Brandon Ingram went ahead of Simmons, and a team like the Lakers might think twice about taking Simmons over a sweet-shooting wing like Ingram.
Do you think every bottom-tier club would pick Simmons at No. 1 because he’s a transcendental point forward and the top overall commodity? Or would some go in a different direction based on fit?
Joseph: At this point in time it still seems like Simmons is a lock to go number one overall. That said, there are real holes in his game. The type of issues which will undoubtedly result in “whispers” of ping pong ball destined teams feeling indifferent towards the prospect.
Simmons can’t shoot, and that’s not something that can simply be fixed by wanting it more. It’s always a giggle fest whenever a scout says, “Soon as he learns to shoot…” as if merely wanting to be a better shoot means it’ll happen. If that were the case, I know a slew of 30 year-olds who are still waiting to be called up from the JV team — you know, as soon as they fix their stroke.
That’s why I’m hesitant to embrace the comparisons to LeBron or Draymond Green. Poor man’s versions or not, those guys are transcendent talents. Obviously they can all have similar skill sets, but still…Both are better shooters than Simmons, though at this point James only shoots 31 percent from outside the paint, so maybe it isn’t that huge of a stretch.
I’ll feel vastly more comfortable projecting his potential when we get a honest measurement of him. Because right now, he’s either a small forward who can’t shoot a lick, yet is humorously talented in nearly every measurable attribute possible, or he’s an undersized PF/C who can’t stretch the floor. The latter being somewhat troublesome as the NBA has supposedly gone small.
All of my nitpicking, it should be noted, is relatively speaking. It’s not an attempt to downplay how great he’s been. Mostly an attempt to be more realistic and highlight his obvious flaw.
That’s merely a really long way of saying: Sure, he’s not the perfect prospect, but who is? No team who will be picking near the top has such a logjam of talent from the three-to-the-five that he should be passed on for guys deemed as lesser talents simply because a the potential picker has a need at a guard position.
Ben: Ahhh, the biggest mystery of this draft — the future and NBA potential of Ben Simmons. As for the comment from N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried, saying he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Duke’s Brandon Ingram went ahead of Simmons, I completely buy it. We’re still just under five months away from the 2016 NBA draft, physical and athletic measurements have to be taken, interviews, workouts, etc. All it takes is one GM to fall in love with a sharpshooting swingman with great athleticism and plus size/weight/length for the NBA.
Do I see that happening? Personally, not at this point in time. Simmons’s polished all-around ability and surprising impact on the defensive end (1.0 blocks and 1.8 steals per game) despite lacking NBA length shows his ceiling could be just as high as Ingram’s is. With an improved jump shot — the easiest thing to improve on in the NBA — Simmons could go from a decent point forward to an unstoppable force. It will take some time, as you see right here, he’s got a little hitch in his release. But as a GM, I’d rather risk his ability to improve that than a swingman who seriously lacks strength and might be caught in-between positions like Ingram will be.
Nitpicking or not, when choosing at the top of the draft every team is going to look at everything involving a player. A few years ago, Simmons would be the top selection no question. The new emphasis on shooting in today’s game might end up costing Simmons some money if he really falters in workouts as we head towards June’s draft. It’s hard to come to conclusions now, but it’d be unfair to both Simmons and Ingram if we just assume either will be the “sure-fire” top pick in the 2016 draft.
Daniel: It’s certainly hard (and unwise) to draw conclusions now. The toughest part of assessing the 20 or so potential lottery picks is figuring out who has the wherewithal to improve. Who has the feel for the game, basketball IQ and mechanical flexibility to make upgrades both mentally and skill-wise?
I was not sold on Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield at all last year. Loved his hustle and leadership, but I didn’t think he had the handle or creativity to attack consistently against elite athletes. Hield added so much polish and shiftiness to his slashing repertoire, and it’s helped him convert drives. He improved his field goal percentage at the rim from 56 to 63 percent, and he boosted his three-point mark from 36 to 52 percent. Now I buy him as a mid-first-round option.
Any returning college players catch you guys by surprise this year? Or are there any sleepers you think will shoot up draft boards in the next few weeks?
Ben: A couple of senior big men have really impressed me this year in Purdue center A.J. Hammons and UNC’s Brice Johnson. The pair both seem to be near-locks to be drafted at some point, with the possibility both get taken in the first round. Hammons has taken a leap across the board in efficiency while reducing his foul rate, and Johnson has been the glue that holds the Tar Heels together and a double-double machine.
I feel like many people forgot about Hammons’s skill after being introduced to now-sophomore center Isaac Haas last year, but Hammons has an intriguing skill set of his own and his shot-blocking should translate to the next level. Johnson is more a throwback-type power forward, with his inability to stretch the floor beyond 15-20 feet — he shoots 54 percent from the right baseline and 43 percent from the left elbow per shotanalytics.com. Both big men could be depth pieces immediately at the next level as they have the necessary size/length/athleticism measurables to make an immediate impact.
As for potential sleepers, I’ve really come to like Malik Beasley, a Florida State swingman who’s proved he’s capable of doing it all as a freshman for the ‘Noles. He’s shown more promise as an actual basketball player than the other touted freshman on that team in swingman Dwayne Bacon, and could be a mid-first-round pick this year.
As for another freshman who caught me by surprise — Ivan Rabb of California. Rabb looks like Chris Bosh 2.0 from a movement and measurable standpoint, and he’s competing with swingman Jaylen Brown for the best prospect on that roster. It wouldn’t surprise me if some team took Rabb before Brown given his size and rim-protection potential, so that’s something to watch as Brown has struggled considerably as a floor-spacer this season (just 27.0 percent from three on 3.0 attempts per game). Don’t be surprised if Rabb is taken before Brown come June.
Joseph: I don’t want to say it was by surprise, but Jarrod Uthoff has been a beast. A 6’9″ versatile player? Sign me up.
He blocks shots at a high rate and he can stretch the floor with the best of them. With the emphasis in the league calling for large humans who can do a little bit of everything, but especially shoot, I’m shocked dude hasn’t been skyrocketing up more mocks.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Adrian Diaz, too. That said, he’s not projected to get drafted at all. Hell, no one has a profile of him on any major draft sites. So I’m an idiot by putting him here, which isn’t totally new.
Daniel: We can’t wrap up this NBA Draft roundtable without touching on 2016’s top international commodities.
It’s hard to tell how many overseas prospects will land in the first round, but it looks like Croatia’s Dragan Bender is the clear-cut prize from this year’s international crop. I really like his feel for the game and ability to create and distribute at 7’0″.
It seems like Kristaps Porzingis’s instant success in New York has fans believing in European prospects again. Bender has a chance to make it back-to-back years of top five Euro Bigs making a splash.
What are your optimistic/ceiling projections for Bender? Do you see him as a primary offensive weapon on a playoff team, or more of an interchangeable role player, or none of the above?
Joseph: Before I discuss him, I have to admit there’s very little I know about Dragan Bender. I simply haven’t had the time to consume much of his game. And, to be honest, I’ve done so mostly by way of YouTube — which is designed to make guys look great. I mean, we never see a highlight reel of a guy missing open 10-footers.
That said, I know scouts are rather high on him. Kristaps being all that and a bag of chips certainly helps his stock, too. The stigma of “international prospects” is less a thing now. That’s merely from the standpoint of perception, as each player should honestly be evaluated based on their own ability. Not some sort of general, wide-scoping view.
He’s pretty fluid for a large human. That alone makes him an intriguing prospect. Without having time to consume enough to have an actual opinion on him, though, I’m hesitant to have a true opinion on him. So, for now, he’s cool?
And that’s my hot take on Dragan Bender.
Ben: Bender is the prized international gem of this upcoming draft, along with swingman Furkan Korkmaz, but I don’t see Bender having the same two-way impact as Porzingis. His lack of bulk and athleticism at this stage should cause him to struggle on the defensive side of the floor. Can he stay with the more mobile power forwards in the league? That’ll be something he has to answer when workouts and athletic testing begin the weeks prior to the draft.
Obviously he lacks the bulk to play any minutes at center, but his ability to shoot from distance should help space the floor. Unfortunately, I don’t think he’s quite good enough offensively to be a number one or two option offensively on a good team. But his ability to be a floor spacer offensively while making the right passes and being smart with the ball is still a big plus for a 7-footer. If he’s able to prove he can guard someone on the floor, mobile, perimeter-oriented big men can always find a way to make it in today’s NBA.
As for Korkmaz, another projected international lottery pick, he reminds me a bit of Mario Hezonja as a prospect. At 6-7, he has nice size for either wing spot, and has great athleticism and a nice jump shot (41.2 percent from three) to boot. He needs to improve as a creator with the ball and work on finishing at the rim, but the tools are there for him to have a successful NBA career down the line. Korkmaz is just 18 years old and has a lot of room to grow.
Daniel: That should be plenty to chew on until we reevaluate this draft crop in the spring. Good chat fellas!