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 ESPN Insider, March 6: Big Board 4.0: Top NBA draft prospects competing for No. 1

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PostSubject: ESPN Insider, March 6: Big Board 4.0: Top NBA draft prospects competing for No. 1   Mon Mar 13, 2017 10:08 am

Big Board 4.0: Top NBA draft prospects competing for No. 1

Chad Ford updates his draft rankings before conference tournaments start.

Mar 6, 2017

Chad Ford
ESPN Senior Writer

We're getting closer to draft season.

Over the next few weeks, conference tournaments and March Madness will give players a major opportunity to boost their NBA draft stock.

I spoke with a number of NBA GMs and scouts to compile this updated ranking of the top prospects.

Here's our last Big Board of the college season.

1. Markelle Fultz

Previous rank: No. 1
Washington
Freshman
Guard

Fultz's grasp on the No. 1 pick has always been a bit tenuous. It hasn't helped that Fultz has been out of the lineup since Feb. 9 after suffering a knee injury against Washington State, forcing him to miss a key second matchup against Lonzo Ball on March 1.
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However, in a survey of a number of top NBA execs and scouts, Fultz still polled slightly ahead of Ball as the No. 1 pick. What's keeping him ahead? He's a more complete player and scorer than Ball and lacks any major holes in his game.

This doesn't mean he'll be the No. 1 pick, though several teams that could potentially land the No. 1 pick like the Celtics, Sixers and Wolves seem to be leaning toward Fultz right now.

Medical testing (no one in the NBA really knows what's going on with that knee), workouts and interviews will now be key for Fultz to hold on to the top position.
2. Lonzo Ball

Previous rank: No. 2
UCLA
Freshman
Guard

Ball continues to gain momentum in the drive for the No. 1 pick. While he is a less complete player than Fultz, the things he does well, he does really well.

Scouts are particularly enamored with his ability to control the game offensively. He makes everyone around him better but can take over games when things get close.

Several teams with good odds of winning the lottery like the Lakers, Suns and Magic appear to be leaning toward Ball. With Fultz's season probably over, a big NCAA tournament for Ball could help him gain even more ground.
3. Josh Jackson

Previous rank: No. 3
Kansas
Freshman
Forward

While Fultz and Ball are the clear favorites for the No. 1 pick, there are a handful of NBA GMs and scouts who feel that Jackson also makes a very strong case for the top pick.
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He has improved significantly as the season has progressed, especially as a shooter. In his past 12 games he has shot 51 percent from 3 (18-for-35). He also has recorded seven double-doubles in that 12-game stretch.

He continues to be turnover prone and his free-throw shooting is a red flag worth noting, but Jackson's competitive fire and ability to play multiple positions are big pluses.

If he can keep hitting shots, he has superstar upside.
4. Dennis Smith

Previous rank: No. 4
NC State
Freshman
Guard

Smith is in the same boat as Fultz. Individually, he has had a terrific freshman season. But his team has lost nine of its past 10 games, and barring an improbable run in the ACC tourney, his season will end early.

The poor performances by the Wolfpack have taken their toll on Smith's draft stock a little. NBA scouts want to see point guards impact the game, and Smith doesn't have the same excuse that Fultz does. There was talent on this roster.

However, his elite athleticism and ability to get his shot anywhere on the floor are such big pluses that Smith's draft stock looks very secure in the Nos. 3-7 range.
5. Jonathan Isaac

Previous rank: No. 5
FSU
Freshman
Forward

While Isaac's production hasn't been particularly impressive of late (he scored only two points against Miami on Saturday and has failed to put up double-digit scoring in four of his past eight games), NBA scouts remain enamored with his elite skill set for a player his size. He also is a bit of an analytics darling (he ranks second to Ball on Kevin Pelton's statistical Big Board), which helps his cause.

If he can do put together a few big games for Florida State in the ACC and NCAA tournaments, he'll improve his stock.

Right now he also seems locked into that Nos. 4-7 range.
6. Malik Monk

Previous rank: No. 6
Kentucky
Freshman
Guard

When Monk is taking and hitting shots, he looks like a sure fire top-5 pick. There isn't a more lethal scorer in college basketball when he gets going (with the possible exception of Central Michigan's Marcus Keene).

Monk's biggest issue right now is consistency. He has frustrated John Calipari this season with the up-and-down nature of his play. He's also strikingly one-dimensional for a player ranked this high. But some scouts feel that Monk is still developing as a player and that we might see more dimensions to his game (creating off the dribble, floor vision) in the NBA than we see from him in college.
7. Lauri Markkanen

Previous rank: No. 9
Arizona
Freshman
Forward

Markkanen has a lot of fans among NBA scouts who see him as an ideal stretch-4 in the league. He's big and mobile at 7 feet, 230 pounds and can really, really stroke it from deep.

Markkanen has been in a shooting slump (4-for-28 from 3 in his past eight games) but his 3-point percentage is still at 43 percent for the season.

There are questions about who he'll defend at the next level and his rebounding could improve, but offensively, he looks like a terrific prospect.
8. Jayson Tatum

Previous rank: No. 7
Duke
Freshman
Forward

Tatum has all the physical tools to be a dominant NBA 3. Shooting remains the biggest question mark for him.

Tatum makes nearly 60 percent of his shots at the rim. However, things get a little sketchier as he moves away from the basket. He got on a hot streak as a shooter in mid-February, going 12-for-19 from 3 in a three-game stretch before regressing to the mean and hitting only three of his next 16 3s.

His 2-point jump shooting is essentially on par with his 3-point game (36 percent from the field). Some scouts feel Tatum has good enough mechanics to improve that area of his game.
9. De'Aaron Fox

Previous rank: No. 10
Kentucky
Freshman
Guard

Fox has been hobbled by injuries in February (first a right ankle, then a twisted knee) and hasn't really played at 100 percent. But he was still able to manage 19 points in a win versus Texas A&M on Saturday and seems to be getting back to his old self.

The jump shot has improved a little but still remains the biggest source of concern for scouts.
10. Miles Bridges

Previous rank: No. 12
Michigan State
Freshman
Forward

Bridges continues to impress scouts with his combination of athleticism, scoring ability and floor vision. He's shooting an impressive 41 percent on jumpers (both from 3 and from 2, according to Hoop-Math). He also has proven to be a terrific rebounder and a solid shot-blocker.

His team should make the tournament, but a loss to Maryland on Saturday didn't help the cause. Some scouts feel he's a better long-term prospect than Tatum. It will be interesting to see those two go at it in workouts.
11. Frank Ntilikina

Previous rank: No. 11
France
Age: 18
Guard

Ntilikina moved from the bench into a starting role for Strasbourg five games ago and his past three games have been impressive. He's averaging 14 points in his past three games, shooting 7-for-10 from 3, and has committed only one turnover in that stretch.

He's really neck-and-neck with Fox for the next point guard off the board once Fultz, Ball and Smith are taken. If he were a little more explosive athletically, I think he'd have the clear edge.
12. Robert Williams

Previous rank: No. 14
Texas A&M
Freshman
Forward/center

Williams is coming off a big 20-point, 13-rebound effort against Kentucky where he outplayed Bam Adebayo. He has put up double-doubles in six of his past eight games and is shooting 41 percent on his 2-point jumpers, per Hoop-Math.

Scouts are becoming convinced that he's more than just an athletic shot-blocker. It will be really interesting to see what NBA scouts do if both Williams and Harry Giles are on the board.
13. Harry Giles

Previous rank: No. 8
Duke
Freshman
Forward

NBA scouts aren't sure what to do with Giles at this point. He plays sporadic minutes for Duke, shows flashes of his old self but is still largely ineffective when he's on the court. He still has the motor that intrigued coming into the season, but his explosiveness and feel just aren't there yet.

Everything on paper screams that Giles needs another year at Duke to really reach his potential. But NBA teams are also aware of just how much potential he has and a number of them told me they'd be willing to gamble on him if he falls outside the top 10.
14. Zach Collins

Previous rank: No. 21
Gonzaga
Freshman
Center

Collins continues to climb up the Big Board as we get closer to the draft. While he still plays a role off the bench and doesn't get the minutes a player of his caliber probably deserves, what he does do with those minutes has really been extraordinary.

He's efficient from everywhere on the floor. He can score at the basket thanks to explosive athleticism, and he's comfortable operating out of the high post and knocking down jumpers on the pick-and-pop. He's even shooting 44 percent from 3, though he doesn't take them very often.

He needs to get stronger, but the buzz about Collins keeps getting louder and louder.
15. Justin Patton

Previous rank: No. 13
Creighton
Freshman
Center

Patton's amazing efficiency has cooled off a little (thanks in large part to Creighton losing point guard Maurice Watson for the season). But all of the things that scouts love about his game remain and there is so much untapped potential.

In a draft that mostly lacks elite big men, someone might take a chance on him in the late lottery.
16. Jarrett Allen

Previous rank: No. 19
Texas
Freshman
Center

Allen's rangy athleticism, his massive 7-foot-6 wingspan and some huge games lately against Kansas and Baylor have impressed scouts. He's shooting nearly 50 percent on his 2-point jumpers this season, which is an underrated part of his game.

However, that statistic also holds part of the dilemma for scouts -- 58 percent of the shots Allen is taking this season are jumpers. He still tends to shy away from contact around the basket. Adding strength will help with some of that, but there are serious questions about his toughness.
17. T.J. Leaf

Previous rank: No. 15
UCLA
Freshman
Forward

Leaf sprained his ankle early in the game against Washington last Wednesday, but he's expected to be back in the Pac-12 tournament. Leaf is not particularly long or strong, but he is a good athlete, is very crafty in the paint and has the ability to step out and hit shots from anywhere on the floor.

As he adds strength, you could see him playing a role like Josh McRoberts or Luke Babbitt in the NBA.
18. John Collins

Previous rank: No. 24
Wake Forest
Sophomore
Forward

It has taken until pick No. 18 to finally have a non-freshman (or age equivalent) on our Big Board. That says something about the strength of this year's freshman class.

Collins remains one of the most efficient players in college basketball. With his size and athletic ability it's pretty easy to get excited about what he has to offer -- especially when you factor in that he's a very young sophomore (he doesn't turn 20 until September).

Scouts want to see him show more range on his jump shot so that he can be more of a modern 4 in the NBA. But all the other tools are there.
19. Ivan Rabb

Previous rank: No. 16
Cal
Sophomore
Forward

There's some mild disappointment from NBA scouts about Rabb's sophomore season. He has improved as a rebounder and a scorer, but it wasn't the leap that NBA teams had hoped to see.

With Cal looking likely to miss the NCAA tournament, he might not get a chance to prove himself on the big stage.
20. Isaiah Hartenstein

Previous rank: No. 18
Germany
Age: 18
Forward

Hartenstein briefly moved his way into the starting lineup for Zalgiris, scoring 13 points and grabbing seven rebounds in a game versus Siauliai before heading back to the bench (with just four minutes of playing time) against Neptune on Sunday.

He's played well enough in his time there, along with solid play at the FIBA under-19s, to warrant a pick this high. However, teams would love to see him get some run at the Nike Hoop Summit in April. A big showing there is probably the best way to boost his stock.
21. OG Anunoby

Previous rank: No. 17
Indiana
Sophomore
Forward

Anunoby had surgery on his knee a month ago, but NBA teams still know relatively little about the injury and how it will affect his draft stock.

If he decides to declare for the draft and teams feel that the surgery was a success, he should probably land in the Nos. 15-22 range. If he's going to miss his rookie season, he could slide a little further, but I doubt he falls out of the first round.
22. Terrance Ferguson

Previous rank: No. 20
Australia
Age: 19
Guard

Ferguson's season in Australia is over and now he heads back to the United States to prepare for the draft.

He didn't really do anything to help his draft stock there. According to our own Neil Johnson, his advanced statistics weren't very good and with so many dominant freshmen, he has lost some of the luster he earned with a strong performance in last year's Nike Hoop Summit.

The good news for him is that this is a weak draft for shooting guards and shooters in general, which could help Ferguson's case.
23. Rodions Kurucs

Previous rank: No. 23
Latvia
Age: 18
Forward

Kurucs has put up better numbers since moving into the starting lineup in late December. He's shooting 39 percent from 3 and has been able to show off some of his court vision.

He really remains mostly a long-term draft-and-stash prospect with significant upside.
24. Caleb Swanigan

Previous rank: N/A
Purdue
Sophomore
Forward

What a difference a year makes. Swanigan was considered a top-10 high school prospect who put up just a solid freshman season for Purdue. Swanigan spent the summer getting in the best shape of his life and the results have been outstanding.

Not only has he become both an elite rebounder and low-post scorer (he hits 80 percent of his shots at the rim), but he also has proven to be an excellent shooter, hitting 45 percent of his 3s.

Teams will always worry a bit about conditioning with Swanigan. It's going to take a constant commitment to stay in this sort of shape, but if he does he could be a very effective NBA player.
25. Edrice Adebayo

Previous rank: No. 27
Kentucky
Freshman
Forward

Bam's strength and explosive leaping ability make him an elite finisher at the rim. He gets 64 percent of his shots near the basket and is shooting a ridiculous 79.7 percent there, according to Hoop-Math.

His lack of overall shooting ability and his lackluster rebounding numbers (though he has had a string of big rebound games against Tennessee, Missouri and Florida) have him a little lower on our Big Board.
26. Tyler Lydon

Previous rank: No. 22
Syracuse
Sophomore
Forward

Lydon doesn't necessarily have a position in the NBA and teams are worried about his consistency, but he's shooting 41 percent from 3. He also rebounds and blocks shots.

It's a formula that should get him taken somewhere in the 20s.
27. Andrew Jones

Previous rank: No. 25
Texas
Freshman
Guard

Jones is another upside pick relying on size and elite athleticism at this point to carry him into the first round. He continues to be very inconsistent and is in the middle of a shooting slump over the past nine games.

Texas' season should end this week and he'll have a tough decision. Scouts all agree another year at Texas would be good for him. But there's enough raw potential to get him drafted in the Nos. 20-40 range.
28. Donovan Mitchell

Previous rank: No. 26
Louisville
Sophomore
Guard

Teams are desperate to find a few keepers at the shooting guard position and Mitchell's combination of elite athleticism and scoring chops make him an interesting prospect.

He even has some ballhandling abilities that make teams wonder if he could be a point guard at the next level.
29. Ike Anigbogu

Previous rank: N/A
UCLA
Freshman
Center

Anigbogu is super raw, but NBA teams are pretty high on his energy, rebounding and shot-blocking ability.

He could really use another year at UCLA, but if he came out now, he'd likely go in the Nos. 25-40 range.
30. Tony Bradley

Previous rank: No. 30
UNC
Freshman
Center

Bradley's lack of minutes hides a really strong freshman season coming off the bench for the Tar Heels.

Like several of the other freshmen at the bottom of this list, he's not ready for the NBA. His upside could sneak him into the first round.
Next five in

Next five: Yante Maten, PF, Jr., Georgia; Luke Kennard, SG, So., Duke; Justin Jackson, SF, Jr., North Carolina; Kostja Mushidi, SG, Belgium; Allonzo Trier, SG, So., Arizona
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ESPN Insider, March 6: Big Board 4.0: Top NBA draft prospects competing for No. 1

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