The key to any prospect making it in the NBA is the right circumstances. The teams have to have a need for the players they are drafting, especially with the players drafted being so high up in the draft. These are the most talented young players enterring the NBA, they need to be played, and on the right team, they will play plenty of minutes. On the wrong team, they won’t play so much.
Jakob Poeltl – Milwaukee Bucks
The Milwaukee Bucks shocked the world in 2015 when they made the playoffs and forced their first round series against Chicago to 6 games. They were supposed to do more of the same this season, but due to the lack of an interior defender and poor play from the point guard position, Milwaukee finds themselves on the outside looking in again this season. The Bucks have addressed their point guard woes with Jason Kidd already committing to playing Giannis Antetokounmpo there next season, but they have yet to deal with their defensive struggles.
Milwaukee is only 23rd in defensive rating this season after finishing 4th last season, and they need an interior defender to change that. Poeltl is just that, and more. Poeltl does everything that the modern NBA center is asked to do. He works hard, he’s an athlete (7’0″ and 248 pounds,) a potentially great defender, and he rebounds at a good rate. With Miles Plumlee entering free agency, it is imperative that Milwaukee retains a center that can anchor a defense.
Against Temple, Poeltl had 32 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks, and two steals on 10 of 12 shooting. Against BYU it was 26 points, 13 rebounds, 5 blocks, and 68.8% shooting. Poeltl also had 29 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, and 1 block on 84.6% shooting against USC. Poeltl has had numerous games like this, and the leap he took from his freshman season to his sophomore one is very encouraging.
Jamal Murray – Chicago Bulls
The Chicago Bulls were another team that took a step back from the 2015 season, but a lottery pick this season can turn things back around for them in the 2016-2017 season. Their issues came at both ends of the court, but offense has been a problem for them the whole season, even when the Bulls started off 22-12. It has been said that the roster former head coach Tom Thibodeau and Bulls management had built didn’t mesh with Fred Hoiberg‘s offensive systems. Whether or not this was the case, Chicago is re-tooling their roster, and it starts with acquiring young talent.
Chicago is only 26th in offense this season, and a large part of that is due to Derrick Rose‘s inability to contribute to the team. When Rose does play, as he will have missed 16 games this season and has gained notoriety for missing games in past seasons, he has been detrimental to the Bulls. Rose has ammassed -0.8 win shares this season. Yes that is right; Rose’s offense has been so bad that he not only has cost the Bulls opportunities for other players to contribute positive wins, but Rose himself has cost the Bulls nearly an entire win with his poor offense. The other guards (save for Jimmy Butler) haven’t been that much better either though, with Justin Holiday racking -0.1 offensive win shares, Aaron Brooks getting 0.2, and Etwaan Moore getting 0.9.
Murray could help this offense significantly. He averaged 20.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game as a freshman in a power five conference, which only three players have done since the stats were kept track of. The other two? Carmelo Anthony and Michael Redd. That is very good company to be in for Murray, and it shows his immense talent at such a young age. Murray did this on a very efficient 45.6% from the field and 42.1% from three, and his offense should definitely translate to the pro game. With the Bulls already getting limited production from their guards and Moore and Brooks being free agents, Murray should definitely be the Bulls number one option come draft day.
Denzel Valentine – Sacramento Kings
This is now the 10th straight year of Sacramento missing the playoffs. The Kings had talent too; Rajon Rondo, Rudy Gay, and DeMarcus Cousins are all all-star level players, and the supporting cast of Willie Cauley-Stein, Darren Collison, Omri Casspi, Quincy Acy, and Kosta Koufus could have been worse. George Karl‘s offense worked for this team too. Sacramento had the league’s 12th best offense, which was great compared to their subpar defense. Defense is one of the things this team needs, as well as production from the shooting guard. Among Ben McLemore, Marco Bellineli, and James Anderson, who racked up a combined 3700 minutes at primarily the two guard, they combined to contribute half of one win share.
In short, in addition to improving their 21st ranked defense, they need a new shooting guard, even with some excellent play from Stephen Curry‘s brother Seth as of late. Denzel Valentine is the real deal. He did amazing things at Michigan State, averaging 19.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 7.6 assists per game on 46.4% field goal shooting and 44.7% three point shooting. He was also arguably the team’s best defender, and played nearly all positions for them. He projects as a shooting guard in the pros as a 6’5″ and 220 pound player with a great three point shot.
Cauley-Stein showed that he could anchor the Kings defense inside, but Sacramento still allowed way too much from opposing perimeter players. The Kings were dead last in opponent three pointers attempted and made, and they were only 20th and 21st in those categories themselves. Valentine can be the glue guy on the perimiter that holds this team together and contributing much more than the other two guards they have. With Rajon Rondo enterring free agency as well, it couldn’t hurt to have another ball handler either.
Henry Ellenson – Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Raptors have done quite well for themselves this season. They have the East’s 2nd best record at 54-26, which is also a franchise best. The only reason the Raptors have a draft pick this high up is because they traded for it with New York in the deal that gave the Knicks Andrea Bargnani. The Raptors, however, like every team in the NBA, can always do something better. Toronto seemingly doesn’t have a player who can play with his back to the basket. Jonas Valanciunas and Bismack Biyombo have both had excellent years, but they are both defensively focused players that play a face-up game on offense. Luis Scola is getting up there in age, and he is a free agent in the offseason, and Patrick Patterson is a stretch four. Anthony Bennett and Jason Thompson are also free agents.
Ellenson would add a whole new element to this team. The Raptors don’t use their bigs too much, but Ellenson could contribute some offense to this team, and keep defenses more honest from zoning in on the guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan. Ellenson is just a freshman, and he already is having big time games. He dropped 32 points, 10 rebounds, 6 blocks, and 1 steal on 8/14 shooting (2/2 from three) in a win against Butler. Ellenson had 26 points, 16 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block in a double overtime win against a 20th ranked Providence team. He also put up 27 points, 14 rebounds, and 2 assists while going 2/3 from three against St. Johns. Ellenson had 18 double-doubles, again, as just a freshman.
A starting line-up of Lowry, Derozan, DeMarre Carroll, Ellenson, and Valanciunas would be amazing. It is balanced, and with LeBron James on the decline, the Raptors might just make it out of the Eastern Conference into the NBA Finals.
Kris Dunn – New Orleans Pelicans
The New Orleans Pelicans had more misfortune in this 2016 season than possibly any other team. Not a single player has stayed healthy, and their best players have all missed a lot of time. Anthony Davis will have missed 21 games, Ryan Anderson and Omer Asik will have missed 16 games, Jrue Holiday will have missed 17 games, Eric Gordon will have missed 37 games, and Tyreke Evans will have missed 57 games. Those the Pelicans’ six best players, and Toney Douglas (23 games missed,) Alexis Ajinca (23,) Luke Babbitt (36,) Norris Cole (37,) Kendrick Perkins (47,) and Quincy Pondexter (all 82 games,) all missed a lot of games as well.
The Pelicans, even when healthy, are not without their flaws, but health, especially in their back court has been the Pelican’s issue for multiple years now. Kris Dunn might just be able to help with that. Dunn is an excellent athlete, and he is physically developed as a college junior more than these “one and done” teenagers enterring the NBA. He will likely stay healthy, and be very effective in doing so. Dunn averaged 16.0 points, 6.4 assists, 5.5 rebounds, and 2.5 steals per game on 44.2% shooting.
Some of his best games include the season opener against Harvard where Dunn had 32 points, six rebounds, five assists, and eight steals. Dunn also had a 26 point, nine rebound, six assist, three steal, and one block outing against St. Johns, and most importantly, Dunn stepped up when it matted. Dunn, in the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament, against a vastly more talented UNC team that made it all the way to the Final Round, got 29 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals on 10/16 shooting in just 26 minutes of playing time. Dunn has the talent to be able to make the Pelicans back into a playoff team.
Jaylen Brown – Minnesota Timberwolves
The Minnesota Timberwolves improved significantly from last season to this one. After finishing 16-66, the Timberwolves have won 28 games and counting this season, and they improved on both sides of the ball, but offensively especially. Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Ricky Rubio all have been excellent for the Timberwolves. Gorgui Dieng and Zach LaVine have done some good things as well, and it seems as though all that this team is missing is another perimeter defender. The Timberwolves are ranked 28th in defense despite Towns and Dieng rim protecting ability in the paint. Andrew Wiggins often times lacks effort defensively, and Tayshaun Prince is just too old to keep up with the athletic wings in the NBA. LaVine and Muhammad have both had difficulty playing defense as well.
Jaylen Brown, however, is a great defensive player. He is both capable and willing on that side of the ball. On offense, Brown was good for a freshman. He averaged 15.0 points and 5.5 rebounds in 27.9 minutes per game, and he had some great performances including 27 points and three rebounds on 11/16 shooting against Richmond, 23 points and 5 rebounds on 7/13 shooting against Washington, and 27 points, 3 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 assists against Utah. Brown has been very consistent for a freshman as evidenced by Brown only missing the 10 point mark in 7 games as, again, a defensive player.
With a starting line-up of Rubio, Brown, Wiggins, Towns, and Dieng, and with Tyus Jones, Shabazz Muhammad, LaVine, Nemanja Bjelica, and Damjan Rudez off the bench. The Timberwolves could make the playoffs with the right coach.
Buddy Hield – Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics are a lot like the Toronto Raptors in that they are already a great time, and it is only a “rich getting richer” situation by having a pick this high. Boston, even though they have over performed more than any other team this season, have still struggled to shoot the three ball this season. They shoot the tenth most threes in the NBA, but shoot them at the 3rd worst percentage in the entire league. Avery Bradley is not a consistent deep threat, Evan Turner is a non-threat from that distance. Their only above average shooters are big men Kelly Olynyk (41.4%) and Jonas Jerebko (39.6%). They could use a three point shooting guard like Hield to open their opponents’ defense.
Hield is arguably the best shooter in this draft, and he is definitely the most complete offensive player. Hield averaged an insane 25.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game on 49.6% shooting and 46.4% shooting from deep this season for the Sooners. The most impressive part of Hield’s season, was the NCAA Tournament leading up to the Villanova disaster.
Hield had 37 points and 4 rebounds on 13/20 shooting against a 1 seed Oregon team, 36 points and 7 rebounds on 11/20 shooting against VCU, and in a regular season game that had a tournament level atmosphere, Hield dropped 46 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists on 13/23 shooting in triple overtime thriller against #1 Kansas. Hield had 8 other 30 point games in this season as well. Hield on the Celtics would be a scary thought for the Eastern Conference.
Dragan Bender – Phoenix Suns
The Phoenix Suns got off to a great start this season, going 7-5 with three big wins against Western Conference playoff teams like Portland (twice) and the Los Angeles Clippers. That early success, however, was unable to be built upon with injuries to just about everyone. The Suns have gone 15-54 since that 7-5 start, and healthy players have been scarce all season. Eric Bledsoe, the team’s best player, will have missed 61 games, T.J. Warren will have missed 35 games, Brandon Knight will have missed 30 games, Tyson Chandler might miss his 16th game on Wednesday, and only four players will have played over 68 games for Phoenix this season.
Even with their health, however, the power forward position is still a gaping hole in their line-up. Bledsoe, Knight, and Devin Booker is a rock solid guard rotation. Warren, P.J. Tucker, and Booker can also play small foward quite well, and Chandler and Alex Len are solid at the center position. The power forward position, however, has not been a stength for Phoenix since Markieff Morris became a fiasco about his brother, and he eventually got traded himself. Mirza Teletovic and Jon Leuer have done an excellent job giving this poor team everything they got, but only have been effective off the bench. Even for a depleted Suns team, Teletovic only started one of 78 games, and Leuer started 20 of his 66.
Bender is a special talent. He has the physical tools to be the 2nd best player in this draft behind Ben Simmons, and Bender even has three inches of height on Simmons at 7’1.” Bender, with his height and 9’3″ reach, is a very attractive prospect. Bender is playing against the best international players in the world as a 17 and 18 year old while the best American players that age are playing against the best players in their local conference. Yet Bender has still found success when given over 10 minutes in a game.
Against CSKA Moscow, a premier international team featuring former NBA players Nando De Colo, Demetris Nichols, Joel Freeland, and Victor Khryapa, Bender had 7 points, 1 assist, 1 block, and 1 steal in just 18.3 minutes of playing time. Against Brose Baskets, a plus .500 Euroleague team led by former NBA player Darius Miller, Bender had 3 points, 5 rebounds, and 1 block in just 13.9 minutes. The potential for Bender is there. He is already playing against NBA level talent in the former players, and doing so quite well for the playing time he has gotten.
Brandon Ingram – Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers are losing Kobe Bryant this offseason, and while it is a sad moment to see the legend retire after all these years, the Lakers now have a chance to fully rebuild. They have some great young players on their team like Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell, and Julius Randle, but they need to keep acquiring young talent. Bryant has played the small forward for the Lakers this season, which is nice because that is the position Ingram projects at in the pros. The Lakers are 29th in offensive efficiency, and 30th in defensive efficiency, so the Lakers need a two way player.
Los Angeles is also dead last at three point percentage in the NBA at 31.8%. Ingram’s 41.0% mark from three for Duke and 42,1% three point shooting mark in conference play will do wonders for the Lakers floor spacing for both the penetration of Clarkson and Russell, as well as the post work of Randle. Don’t be confused though, if Ingram goes to this team, he will become their best player. He averaged 17.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game on a team with Grayson Allen and Marshall Plumlee in the hardest basketball conference in college basketball. He is the real deal.
Ingram has had some great games this season, and he had 14 where he scored over 20 points. He had 26 points, 14 rebounds, two assists, two blocks, and a steal on 69.2% shooting (50% on threes) against Georgia Southern. Ingram also had 26 points, 11 rebounds, 3 steals, and an assist on 68.8% shooting (50% from three) against Elon. The knocks on Ingram’s game are his strength, which will improve for the current 18-year-old, and his ball handling, which Clarkson and Russell will be asked to do for the Lakers. Ingram’s 7’3″ wingspan and 9’2″ reach are great attributes that suggest a good career defensively. Ingram is simply a great fit for this Lakers team.
Ben Simmons – Philadelphia 76ers
The Philadelphia 76ers need talent. They are arguably the most talent deprived team in the NBA, and their league worst 10-70 record reflects that. They have some great young big men; Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel are already very high quality players, and Joel Embiid has very high potential. The other positions, however, are very much in need of upgrade. Ish Smith has played well at point guard, but he is not the long term solution, and their other starters are not long term fixes either.
Ben Simmons is the best talent in this draft, and he’s destined to be a powerful force in the NBA. His averages of 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game on 56.0% shooting are unparalleled. That is literally true in that no player since 1994 has achieved those per game statistics of Simmons’, and he is doing that as a freshman. He has shown big game potential as well, as Simmons went off for 43 points, 14 rebounds, 7 assists, 5 steals, and 3 blocks on 75% field goal shooting against North Florida, and 36 points, 14 rebounds, 4 assists, a steal and a block on 66.7% shooting against a solid Vanderbilt team. Simmons looks to be a franchise changing talent, and maybe he can be the one to take the putrid 76ers to the playoffs.
It doesn’t matter what people have tried to spin on Simmons this season. Whether it was that he didn’t get his team into the tournament even though they were ranked for the first two weeks of the season and pre-season polls, and Simmons was 12th in power five conference win shares for players, and 2nd among freshman with 6.0. Then people criticized Simmons for his GPA despite the fact that NBA players have literally skipped college entirely to go the pros, and their lack of secondary education didn’t impact their ability to learn the pro game. In fact straight out of high school players like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, and Dwight Howard became masters of defensive strategy and instinct. While it may be premature to call Simmons the “Next LeBron” or the “Next Magic Johnson,” Simmons has a very high ceiling, and could bring playoff basketball back to Philadelphia.