The 5 Tiers of Collegiate Draft Eligible Players in the 2017 NBA Draft

The 5 Tiers of Collegiate Draft Eligible Players in the 2017 NBA Draft

By Jake Zoll

 Foreword-

Throughout my years watching sports, the most imperfect science has been the NBA Draft. Similar mistakes happen year after year and people still become married instantly to popular mock drafts by people, who were horribly wrong just a year prior. Noticing this absurd system taking place, I decided to step in and propose a list uninfluenced or encumbered by any outside sources and just rely on the thousands of hours of college basketball I watch yearly. I do not profess to know the prospects of Europe and South America, so you will not find those players in the list below. This is not a mock draft of the order I think will happen, rather, this is a list of best 27 players available.

 TIER 1 (Franchise Changing Players)

  1. Markelle Fultz– The safest pick in the 2017 draft, Markelle Fultz, begs very few questions of scouts. With an above average 6’10” wingspan for a point guard and an innate ability to score the ball inside and out, Fultz lacks the publicity necessary for the skill level present because Washington failed to make the tournament and at most points in the season failed to even play at a competitive level within the pac-12. The old adage is that you need to be above average in one aspect of the game to make it in the NBA and Fultz exceeds this adage by sitting above average in almost every category. The separation Fultz has between Fox and Ball is built upon the versatility of his game. He has the length and quickness to develop into a Top 5 defensive Point Guard along with the ability to help out with rebounding game, which is extremely unique to see among a Power-5 Leading point scorer. NBA Comparison- Damian Lillard                                                         pjimage
  2. Jayson Tatum- Standing at 6’8” with a 6’11” wingspan, Jayson Tatum checks off every box in the franchise player checklist. He has the strength, length and post up ability to play power forward in the modern NBA’s small lineup along with the ability to use his slashing and outside shooting ability to also be a mismatch for many small forward defenders. Tatum would benefit greatly from being drafted by the Celtics, as Brad Stevens is notorious for optimizing versatile player matchups, which would create the best scoring opportunities for Tatum. Tatum represents the most ready to contribute player in this draft and should be the favorite to take home Rookie of the Year honors. Tatum tempts being number 1 overall based on the fact that forwards are much more valuable than guards, but ultimately Fultz appears to be much more than just a scoring guard. NBA Comparison- Paul Pierce  pjimage (1)
  3. OG Anunoby- Anunoby raises the ante with a staggering 7’3” wingspan despite being the same height as Tatum. Anunoby continues the trend of versatility and length being at a premium in this draft; this trend aligns with the changing landscape of the modern NBA. If you analyze the roster construction of the conference finalists of this years NBA season, it seems inevitable that the Future of the NBA will make versatile forwards an essential part of forming a roster. Whether the player is Jae Crowder, Lebron James, Draymond Green, or Kawhi Leonard; opposing teams found out the hard way the value of versatile forwards as they scrambled to switch up lineups furiously to attempt to minimize the mismatches that were created constantly with the help of these 4 players. Anunoby figures to be a defensive maestro with a 40 plus inch vertical, above average quickness, and a Stretch Armstrong-esque wingspan. Anunoby’s value could be clearly seen last year at Indiana when they beat Kansas and eventual National Champion UNC with Anunoby’s services and proceeded to miss the tournament when Anunoby suffered a season ending injury. Anunoby has the offensive game to produce right away to go along with being the number one defensive prospect in the draft. NBA Comparison- Kawhi Leonard                                                                      pjimage (2)                                                                                          
  4. De’Aaron Fox- De’Aaron Fox burst into the national conversation when he “surprisingly” recorded 39 points, while primarily being defended by Lonzo Ball in the 2017 NCAA tournament. The surprise in this performance to many onlookers was that Lonzo Ball appeared to be the better NBA prospect, but in reality Fox had been a far better looking prospect throughout the entirety of the season. Fox’s quickness represents his distinctive separation from other guards in this draft. With the emergence of the pick and roll as a primary method of offense throughout the NBA, Fox figures to dominate defenses in the open space created at the pick and roll mesh point, which will allow him to be almost un-guardable at the NBA level. Fox will debut in the NBA as a slashing pick and roll player, but he also has a shooting plane that may very well develop into an effective long-range jump shot. NBA Comparison- Russell Westbrook                                                             pjimage (3)

      TIER 2 (All-Star Potential with Development Needed)

  1.       Malik Monk- In prior years, Monk may have been seen as a late first round pick because he lacks the elite size and length at his position of shooting guard; however, Monk is the undisputed best shooter in this draft, which is at a premium in today’s NBA. Unlike many elite college shooters, Monk has displayed the ability to make shots when double-teamed and with a hand in his face. The fruits of his talents were most aptly displayed when he scored 47 on the soon to be national champion Tar Heels. Monk nailed 8 out of 12 three pointers, including a game tying three pointer with 1:20 remaining and a go-ahead three pointer with 19 seconds remaining, which would eventually seal the deal for the Wildcats. Monk NBA Comparison- Reggie Miller                                                                      pjimage (4)
  2. Donovan Mitchell– The best athlete in the draft award goes to Donovan Mitchell. If anyone in this draft class were to win a Dunk Contest, I believe this man is your front-runner. With a vertical leap measured as high as 40.5 inches and a wingspan of 6’10”, Mitchell seems poised to be a defensive nightmare for NBA opponents with exceptional length and explosiveness for a guard. Mitchell projects to be a 12-15 point scorer, which with his defensive prowess is quite serviceable. Although serviceable offensively, Mitchell does not have anywhere near the natural scoring ability of Monk, Fultz, or Tatum which drops his stock down the boards slightly despite his Elite NBA Frame and athleticism. Mitchell NBA Comparison- Dwyane Wade. A bold upside projection for Mitchell but the similarities to a young Dwyane Wade are quite recognizable as this could be Flash 2.0.                      pjimage (5)
  3. Justin Patton- The biggest surprise of this draft was how quickly Patton rocketed up draft boards. By the third week of the collegiate season, Creighton was one of the best teams of the country and Patton was leading the charge. Patton’s premier skill, rim protection, promises to keep him in the NBA for an extended period of time as he ranks among the top three rim protectors in the class. Not to mention, Patton shot 57 % from three in limited attempts and has a developed scoring arsenal that includes post scoring and mid range jumpers. As a prospect, Patton is extremely low risk given his defense and rebounding, and relatively high reward given his offensive possibilities. NBA Comparison- Brook Lopez                     pjimage (6)
  4. Jordan Bell– To keep within the trend of versatility being at a premium, Bell provides an extreme value. For some reason, NBA GM’s usually under evaluate guys that can protect the rim, guard multiple positions, and rebound at a high level. This was most recently seen when Draymond Green fell all the way into the warriors lap in the second round. Bell was the best shot blocker and one of the better rebounders in all of the NCAA and still is going under the radar. Jordan Bell, who led the ducks to a final four, is as close to a lock of being a really good NBA player as there is in this draft. NBA Comparison- Draymond Green.                pjimage (7)

TIER 3 (NBA Career Starters)

  1. Lonzo Ball– The most overrated player in year’s draft is getting a lot of tags that busts usually get. “He is a leader,” “He is a winner.” “He commands the floor.” Those are all well and good but the truth to his game is much more unappealing than the tags. The most discernable feature to Ball’s game is an unconventional across the plane jumper that can most nicely be graded as inefficient and more accurately described as a broken jumper that has no chance of being effective at the NBA level. Although he posted a respectable 41% from 3-point distance, he also shot 67% from the free throw line. I believe that free throws are more indicative of future shooting success because defenders will be better and longer at the next level and the three point line will also be pushed back a couple of feet from college. 67% free throws would put him at the very bottom among league point guards at the free throw line and he figures to rank near the bottom of every shooting category throughout his career unless his shooting stroke changes drastically. To go along with his questionable at best jump shot, Ball comes equipped as the worst defensive point guard in the draft with extremely slow foot speed that was highlighted last year as he quarterbacked for the worst defensive team in the NCAA tournament field and personally allowed 39 points against the only NBA level opponent he guarded in the NCAA tournament. The upside of Ball’s game is passing ability as he comfortably ranks as the best passer in this years draft, which should allow him to have a lengthy NBA career as an elite passer. Ball NBA Comparison- Ricky Rubio                                                                                                 pjimage (8)
  2. Caleb Swanigan– The wild card of the 2017 NBA draft, Biggie Swanigan, should realistically start watching the draft coverage around pick 8 and make sure there is enough space on his DVR to record into the early part of the second round. It’s hard to poke a hole in Swanigan’s college game as he posted 18 and 12 as a Sophomore National Player of the Year runner up. The curious case of Caleb Swanigan wonders how a projected top 10 pick in the 2016 NBA draft prior to his freshman season in almost every mock draft accessible has a monster college career and falls 30 spots in most similar mock drafts. Is this a statement about how we only value the one and done players? Or is it a statement that the center position no longer holds the same value as it once did? First off, one and done’s are proving to be overrated at the NBA level. Out of the First and Second all NBA teams in 2017, there is only 2 one and done’s out of the 10 best NBA players. All NBA first teamer, Russell Westbrook, averaged only 3 points as a freshman at UCLA, showed massive improvements and entered the draft as a sophomore similar to Swanigan. I think Westbrook’s career has been alright since being a sophomore draftee. Secondly, although the big man is becoming less relevant today, Swanigan represents the new wave of big man as he can step outside to stretch out the floor and keep proper spacing. He shot 45 percent from three- not bad for a guy with a 7’3” wingspan. Swanigan NBA Comparison Zach Randolph.                                                                                          pjimage (9)
  3. Josh Jackson– With extreme offensive limitations, Josh Jackson was unable to make Kansas into a Final Four team despite a seasoned roster including National Player of the Year Frank Mason and two other NBA prospects in Svi Mykhailiuk and Devont’e Graham. Jackson struggled mightily with shot creation and free throws. He finished the year at 56 percent from the free throw line and was never able to carry Kansas offensively because of his below average jumper and awful free throw shooting. With that said, Jackson still managed to score 16 points a game and appears to have elite defensive ability at a critical defensive position of small forward in the NBA given the amount of talent present at that position. Ultimately, Jackson’s value lies more in his potential to be a defensive stopper than a scorer. He lacks the ability to score over 12 points a game in the next 5 years unless a major improvement comes in his shot making ability. Overall, Jackson is a high upside scrappy defender that would’ve been a top 5 prospect if this draft were in 1993. NBA projection- Thabo Sefolosha                                                           pjimage (10)
  4. Zach Collins– High risk, high reward Zach Collins intrigues all onlookers based on the fact he has an extraordinarily polished offensive game and is 7’0”. He has the old style game that includes post-moves that are almost fossilized in the current NBA. He looks to be an NBA level rim protector and an above average defender. The draw back to drafting Collins remains limited information. He only averaged 17 minutes a game playing behind All-American Przemek Karnowski. It’s impossible to determine if his production slows down with increased workload or if his 7’0” frame provides diminishing returns defensively with increased physical stress. Like many others in this draft his upside is franchise revolutionizing, but he has a relatively high bust rate for his talent. NBA Projection- Kevin McHalepjimage (11)
  5. Jonathan Isaac– Jonathan Isaac posted respectable numbers as a freshman with 12 points and 8 rebounds per game, but only had the ability to score as a second or third option versus collegiate competition. In bigger games, Isaac had issues even producing shot attempts. Most notably, he only attempted 7 shots in a blowout loss to Xavier in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Although Isaac lacks dynamic offensive ability, Isaac ranks as a top prospect due to his near 7’0” frame and stellar defense and rim protection. It remains to be seen if he can play power forward at 200 lbs but he does figure to put on a significant amount of weight. Isaac ranks as the biggest risk reward pick in the 2017 draft class. NBA Comparison- Tyson Chandler                                                                                          pjimage (26)

TIER 4 (Starting 5 Role Players)

  1. Justin Jackson– One of the most NBA ready players in the draft, Justin Jackson, can score in every way imaginable. His floater will already be one of the best in the NBA the second he steps on the floor. He can bank shots from the mid range- and most importantly, he has the potential to be a 40 percent plus 3 point shooter. On top of all his offensive ability, Jackson boasts above average defense that will be instantly serviceable at the next level. The drawback of drafting Jackson is that his upside remains respectively low in comparison to many in this loaded 2017 draft class. Jackson isn’t someone who can be built around at the franchise level but could contribute in a big way to a team that has a foundation established. Jackson’s rookie year and initial success depends heavily on being drafted to a situation that benefits his skillset. The Clippers, Bulls, and Heat would all be great for his career trajectory. NBA Comparison- Trevor Ariza                                                                pjimage (12)
  2. Frank Jackson– The biggest beneficiary of the new rules, which allows players to attend the NBA combine prior to finalizing their decision to turn pro this year, was Frank Jackson. Jackson’s NBA interest started rising when he filled in more than serviceably for Grayson Allen while Allen was dealing with multiple injuries throughout the latter half of the year. Jackson displayed the ability to slash and shoot and rise to the occasion on the big stage. Jackson’s NBA dreams were cemented when he dazzled at the NBA combine. He displayed a 42’ vertical leap, stunning quickness, and showed extremely well in the scrimmage portion of the combine, which places him in the “rising up the boards” position he currently resides in. NBA Comparison- Jeff Teague                                              pjimage (13)       
  3. TJ Leaf– The best UCLA player for most of last season, Leaf displayed the ability to impact the game in every facet. He can shoot from 17 feet and in. He has above average ability to elevate for rebounds and alley oop lobs, and can be an average rim protector at the next level. Although he was an underrated collegiate player, I think Leaf is an overrated prospect. He does not have the exceptional length to be a disturbance down low at the next level and his scoring is not too the point where he could be a 20 point NBA scorer. NBA projection- David Lee                pjimage (14)
  4. Ike Anigbogu– Anibogu’s value is 100 percent in defense and dunking. This inherently caps his ceiling relatively low. The intrigue with Anigbogu lies in his 7’6” wingspan, which allows him to rebound and rim protect at a high level. He’s undersized for a center at 6’8” and it remains to be seen if his offensive limitations will allow him to start on an NBA roster. NBA Comparison- Bismack Biyombopjimage (15)

TIER 5 (Bench Players)

  1. Jawun Evans– Anyone who follows Big 12 basketball knows the comparisons with Chris Paul that frequently surround Evans aren’t far off. His game contains a great jumper and elite scoring ability for a little man. The only reason his grade sits outside the top 10 is his height, which sits below 6’0”. With his stature, he will constantly be matching up with longer, heavier, and taller players. His quickness will allow him to score despite his size but he will almost definitely be a defensive liability. NBA Comparison- Ty Lawson                                                  pjimage (16)
  2. Luke Kennard- Luke Kennard established a reputation for scoring when he bested Lebron James’s Ohio High School scoring mark. Kennard further proved his scoring ability while putting up nearly 20 points per game as a sophomore at Duke. For a 6’5” guard, he can make every shot below the rim imaginable. He has the craft of a YMCA player and the shooting ability of an elite NBA three point shooter. Unfortunately, Kennard lacks the length and athleticism to stay of the floor defensively at the NBA level. NBA comparison- Jamal Crawford   pjimage (17)
  3. Cameron Oliver– The best “small school” player in this draft is Cameron Oliver. Historically, this superlative has played out well for NBA franchises. Notable draftees from this category are C.J McCollum, Damian Lillard, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, and Scottie Pippen. The lack of exposure and notoriety inevitably rockets them down the draft board despite their obvious talents. Oliver may be coming out a year early, but still provides a great raw mold with ridiculous upside. With a 40 inch vertical, Oliver can rebound and mostly plays a stretch 4 despite his above average athleticism. NBA Comparison- Patrick Patterson                   pjimage (18)
  4. Lauri Markkanen– Lauri Markkanen falls inside my overvalued player pool. As stated earlier with Jordan Bell- versatile, athletic power forwards who can rebound get under drafted. Conversely, Tall and Skinny Euro style stretch 4’s get instantly compared to Dirk and are traditionally way overvalued. For some popular examples think Nikoloz Tskitishvilis, Andrea Bargnani, And Darko Milicic. Lauri Markkanen does have advanced three-point shooting ability and intriguing offensive skills; however, I see him as too slight of build to defend most power forwards in the NBA. I don’t think his offensive game is anywhere near the level that would offset his defensive and rebounding liability that he is almost a lock to be. I think the hype with this prospect much outweighs the actual talent in a loaded draft class. NBA Comparison- Frank Kaminsky                                     pjimage (19)
  5. Jarrett Allen- Jarrett Allen is the most stereotypical 6’11” shot blocker possible. He is a below average shooter from the floor and free throw line alike (57%). He has an average post game but relies heavily on lobs and layups. That being said, Allen still provides value as a serviceable big man in a league devoid of serviceable big men. NBA Comparison- John Henson                                                               pjimage (20)
  6. Dennis Smith– Voluminous scorer, Dennis Smith, provides a deep concern in a rising area of analysis in the NBA- Efficiency. Although Smith has dazzling ability to slash between defenders and make highlight reel plays, he has not displayed the ability to make the right play or take the right shot. The stats bear this out in spades as he shot 45 percent from the floor and turned the ball over 3.5 times per game. Additionally, He displayed terrible defense and below par leadership on a struggling team. I think he will provide many highlight reel plays and excitement but ultimately fizzle out as an NBA draft bust. NBA Comparison- Steve Francispjimage (21)
  7. Thomas Bryant – If not for pick and roll defense, Thomas Bryant would be a top 10 pick in this years draft. He has versatility on offense rarely seen in the draft and can shoot the ball exceptionally well for a big man. Unfortunately for Bryant, he does not provide the rebounding or rim protection that most players in this class provide. He has intrigue offensively but with his limitation defensively; I don’t think he could ever stick in an NBA rotation. NBA Comparison- Cristiano Feliciopjimage (22)
  8. Bam Adebayo– Bam Adebayo can potentially help an NBA team as a 7th or 8th man, who can rebound on both ends and do a little bit of scoring if need be. He does not induce the need for over analysis, as he just does not provide much chance of ever being a noteworthy NBA player. NBA Comparison- Miles Plumleepjimage (23)
  9. Frank Mason– The reigning National Player of the Year deserves some love, right? He leads the draft class in a crucial skill that just became uber-valuable in 2016- drawing fouls and embellishing contact. Although it seems facetious, he can get to the free throw line at will. He projects to be a tough cover in the NBA based on his quickness, shot making ability, and foul drawing prowess. I think on top of that he can defend rather well for a 6’0” point guard. I think he will be much more effective than most projections around think. NBA Comparison- Patty Millspjimage (24)
  10. Tyler Lydon– Extremely underrated athlete, Lydon broke onto the scene aiding Syracuse to a Final Four run. He was a polished collegiate scorer and rebounder, but unfortunately does not have a sharp enough skillset to expose his athleticism at the next level. To do so, he would need to become a far better dribbler, which would allow him to create more space against the less athletic big men. I ultimately think Lydon is too slight of frame and lacks many NBA level skillsets to be effective as he career progresses- NBA Comparison- Mike Muscala                  pjimage (25)

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