Welcome to The Ringer’s 2017 NBA Draft Lottery Big Board, a consensus of the top 14 prospects in the draft as determined by our three resident NBA draftniks: Danny Chau, Kevin O’Connor, and Jonathan Tjarks. You can find our rankings further below, but we’ll also be using this space to examine draft trends and curiosities as we head closer and closer to draft day.
This week, we take a look at five players who were projected to be drafted last season, but opted to stay — and how that’s affected their standing this year. For Ivan Rabb, Grayson Allen, OG Anunoby, Caleb Swanigan, and Justin Jackson, did the extra year help, hurt, or do neither?
Ivan Rabb (Hurt)
Tjarks: Not much went right for Rabb this season. Cal didn’t make the NCAA tournament, and Rabb’s shooting percentages plummeted — from 61.5 percent as a freshman to 48.4 percent as a sophomore — as he moved to a bigger role in the offense. Nor did he expand his game much: He took only 16 long 2s and 20 3s all season while his free throw percentage remained constant at just over 66 percent, and he didn’t become more of a playmaker, with his assist-to-turnover ratio remaining well below 1:1.
Rabb is essentially the same player he was a year ago. He’s a long, athletic, and extremely skilled big man without the perimeter game to play as a power forward in the small-ball NBA or the size and shot-blocking ability to be a starting center. His role at the next level will primarily be as a small-ball 5 who comes off the bench, and he spent most of his time at Cal playing as a power forward next to an unskilled center (either Kameron Rooks or Kingsley Okoroh). Rabb didn’t gain much, at least on the court, from returning to school, and now he will enter the draft a year older, which will impact how he is rated by most statistical models as well as the perception of his upside around the league.
Grayson Allen (Hurt)
O’Connor: Woe is Grayson Allen, who likely would’ve been a late-first-round pick in 2016, but decided to stay at Duke only to see his role stolen from him by Luke Kennard, who also took Allen’s place as a first-round prospect. Scouts I’ve talked to think Allen will now land in the second round, and he’s ranked accordingly by most draft sites. Allen’s numbers dropped from 21.6 points per game to 14.5, 41.7 percent on 3-pointers to 36.5, and from 36.6 minutes per game to 29.6. Allen is unlikable. He goes to Duke. He trips people. He looks like Ted Cruz. Allen also hustles his ass off, has a strong frame, and has shown a knack for knocking down high-degree-of-difficulty shots. Some of these things matter more in the NBA than others. It might be best if he goes back to school for another year to restore his draft stock, but I still like Allen, and should he declare, I’d take a chance on him in the second round.
OG Anunoby (Neither)
Chau: With Archie Miller’s arrival in Bloomington, odds are likely that Anunoby declares for the NBA draft — why spend a year adapting to a completely new system with new demands and not get paid for it when you could make millions to do the same thing in the NBA? Anunoby came out of nowhere last season because of some outstanding highlight-caliber dunks and NBA-grade perimeter defense; his draft stock in the preseason was in the eye of the beholder. He was too unknowable for some, who wondered if his low usage was the reason for his incredibly efficient play his freshman year; for others, his tools were compelling enough to lock up a lottery selection.
Anunoby hasn’t played basketball in almost four months, but he’s slowly creeping back up on big boards anyway because you just don’t see players built like him … ever. He combines a musclebound 6-foot-8 frame with a reported 7-foot-6 wingspan, giving him the size of Paul George and the arms of DeMarcus Cousins. He’s a player who projects the ability to defend all five positions. Anunoby has a lot to prove on offense, as he didn’t quite blossom the way some had expected in a larger role, but he has the nascent skills. Provided with an expert medical staff and a great deal of patience, he could be the steal of the draft.
Caleb Swanigan (Helped)
O’Connor: The 2016 NBA draft combine must’ve been a wake-up call for Swanigan. In Chicago, he looked overmatched physically, lost defensively, and quite frankly like he didn’t even belong on the floor. He likely still would’ve been drafted in the mid-to-late second round, but after going back to Purdue he’s emerged as a new and improved version of himself. It wouldn’t surprise me if this year he leaps into the late first round.
At 6-foot-9 with long arms and a bulky frame, Swanigan has always had the size to compete at the NBA level. But his weight and conditioning were considered issues. Swanigan improved his body significantly, which in turn made him a more mobile scorer in transition and pick-and-roll situations, and an even more dominant rebounder. Like many modern bigs, Swanigan can also stroke 3s (he shot nearly 45 percent on 85 attempts this season). The Boilermaker power forward is still a liability on the defensive end due to a lack of fundamentals and floor recognition, but his improved conditioning suggests there’s a possibility he’ll someday make strides on that end. There are so many intricacies that go into making a successful defender, and it’s conceivable he’ll someday reach a passable level.
Justin Jackson (Helped)
Tjarks: Jackson answered every question NBA teams had about him as a junior, and he was the best player on a North Carolina team that just won a national championship. He improved his body, adding 10 pounds of muscle — if the UNC media guide is to be believed — and he dedicated himself to the defensive end of the floor, shutting down players as dynamic as Malik Monk and Tyler Dorsey in the NCAA tournament. Most importantly, he became a much better jump shooter, going from shooting 29.2 percent from 3 on three attempts per game last season to shooting 37 percent from 3 on 7.1 attempts per game.
Jackson was UNC’s primary option on offense, but he’s going to have a more secondary role at the next level, which means he has to be a good shooter and defensive player to earn playing time. There are still plenty of doubts among NBA observers about whether or not his improved jumper is for real and whether he will be able to defend elite athletes at small forward at the next level, but he did all that he could to improve his draft stock this season.
Below are our consensus rankings. To look at the individual top 14s from Chau, Tjarks, and O’Connor, refer to this spreadsheet and tell us how wrong we are in the comments.
1. Markelle Fultz
Point guard, Washington, freshman (6-foot-4, 195 pounds)
(Last ranked: 1)
Despite not making the Big Dance, despite all of Lonzo Ball’s publicity (both good and bad), and despite good tournament performances from the likes of Josh Jackson and De’Aaron Fox, Fultz holds down the top spot because he offers bulletproof versatility as a combo guard. He is big, crafty, and prolific; he shot over 41 percent from 3 on a high volume of attempts; he can work off the ball; he has big-play ability on defense, and with the right coach, projects to be a whole lot better on that side than what he showed under Lorenzo Romar at Washington. He is the Ronco Rotisserie in this draft — just set it and forget it.
2. Lonzo Ball
Point guard, UCLA, freshman (6-foot-6, 190 pounds)
(Last ranked: 2)
Unlike Fultz, Ball has very notable drawbacks in his style of play, and our own Kevin O’Connor went incredibly deep in examining one of them: His peculiar shooting motion could make him an extremely predictable player at the next level. But there are few players who enter a draft with the kind of generational ability that Ball has — he is without a doubt the best facilitator the draft has seen since Ricky Rubio. At his very worst, he projects as a 6-foot-6 ball handler who can shoot 3s (which is to say, his floor is high). His ceiling? One of the most unorthodox franchise players in the league.
3. Josh Jackson
Forward, Kansas, freshman (6-foot-8, 207 pounds)
(Last ranked: 3)
The best two-way player in the draft is also its most dynamic. Jackson combines world-class run-jump athleticism, veteran savvy as a secondary and tertiary ball handler, and a relentless motor with a challenge-accepted attitude that allowed him to flourish as an atypical power forward for Bill Self this season at Kansas. There are major questions about his ability to shoot consistently from 3-point range, but if the 48.9 percent mark he shot in the final two months of his college career translates to the NBA, Jackson could wind up being the best player of this class.
4. Jonathan Isaac
Forward, Florida State, freshman (6-foot-10, 210 pounds)
(Last ranked: 5)
While Isaac is firmly entrenched in the draft’s top 10, where exactly he fits in that range is subject to debate — even two of our staffers, Tjarks and O’Connor, can’t agree. Tjarks has Isaac at no. 2; O’Connor has him at no. 6. Draft Express currently slots him at no. 9. The argument for Isaac is apparent. There is zero guesswork in terms of fit; he is exactly the kind of positionally fluid 3-and-D combo forward that has a place on all 30 teams in the league. The knocks are equally as evident: He took a backseat to more experienced teammates, and there is an incredibly small sample size of Isaac actually being able to create shots for himself effectively, which is what you’d hope from a high lottery pick. Where he lands will be determined by how much star power teams think he possesses.
5. Lauri Markkanen
Forward/center, Arizona, freshman (7-foot, 230 pounds)
(Last ranked: 6)
The best shooter in the draft is a 7-footer, in case you were still wondering where basketball is headed. Markkanen had an incredibly productive season at Arizona, but ended his college career on a down note in the Wildcats’ tournament game against Xavier. He’s no rim protector, and he’ll struggle rebounding at the next level, but Markkanen is a case where his strengths may completely outweigh his shortcomings. Still, teams are salivating imagining his shooting ability in the wide-open setting the NBA provides. A 42 percent 3-point shooter who can play the center position warps the geometry of the court in ways defenses still have yet to figure out. That alone will make him a hot commodity come June.
6. Malik Monk
Guard, Kentucky, freshman (6-foot-3, 200 pounds)
(Last ranked: 7)
One of the most potent scorers in college basketball is entering the league at the right time: The demand for firestarting combo guards hasn’t been this high since Allen Iverson’s early years. What he lacks in refined ball-handling skills, he makes up for in off-ball movement, and the confidence to take any shot that’s presented to him. With more ball-handling drills and a firmer defensive foundation instilled in him, he might be able to unleash more of his jaw-dropping athleticism, too.
7. De’Aaron Fox
Point guard, Kentucky, freshman (6-foot-3, 187 pounds)
(Last ranked: 10)
Fox’s 39-point night against Lonzo Ball and UCLA was a star-making performance. Fox’s gliding athleticism and his elite top-end speed and body control make him a nightmare in transition. He has the size and lateral agility to be as good on defense as he is on offense, and his shot might not be as broken as once assumed. But his jumper is something worth tracking: If he isn’t willing to at least attempt shots from 3-point range, much of the skills that make him one of the best point guard prospects in this draft could be stifled.
8. Frank Ntilikina
Point guard, Strasbourg (6-foot-5, 170 pounds)
(Last ranked: 8)
The youngest player in the draft is also one of the headiest. Ntilikina is something of the Jonathan Isaac of the point guard crop: His versatility at 6-foot-5 with a nearly 7-foot wingspan will allow him to defend three positions once he bulks up. Ntilikina is an accomplished defender, even at his age, with a level of awareness and reflexes that, combined with his physical dimensions, can present issues for a lot of perimeter players. He isn’t quite as flashy as his counterparts, but he projects as a George Hill–esque caretaker who has all the skills to help teams win games as a complementary player.
9. Jayson Tatum
Forward, Duke, freshman (6-foot-8, 205 pounds)
(Last ranked: 8)
Tatum has the talent to go much higher in this draft, and there are certainly reasons he’s often listed as a top-five prospect. He is the most refined scorer of his class, and he has been pulling from an unending bag of offensive tricks since he was in high school. Go-to scoring will always be a need in the NBA, but there are real questions about whether he can sustain that production against players he doesn’t have a physical advantage over. As a player caught between positions, he doesn’t have the elite athleticism that would help in his transition to the 4, and he’ll need to show a more well-rounded skill set for teams that won’t need him as their primary option right away.
10. Zach Collins
Center, Gonzaga, freshman (7-foot, 230 pounds)
(Last ranked: 14)
We were early on the Collins train, slotting him in our Big Board in early February. Since then, he’s only improved upon his bona fides. Collins had an impressive NCAA tournament in a runner-up effort by Gonzaga, showing off his measured rim-protection ability and offensive touch around the basket. His athleticism and potential floor-spacing ability make him a typical modern center who is equally comfortable in a small-ball or twin-towers setup. Collins offers versatility up front without compromising size or skill.
11. Dennis Smith Jr.
Point guard, NC State, freshman (6-foot-3, 195 pounds)
(Last ranked: 6)
Smith’s position on this Big Board doesn’t accurately reflect his immense talent level, but it does show where the league is headed, and whether his most notable talents vibe with the way the league is changing. Smith has the look of a star point guard — he’s big, unspeakably athletic, and ball dominant. But is he a good enough penetrator to warrant leaving the ball in his hands? Can he shoot well enough to keep defenders on their heels? Does he offer much off the ball? Is he willing to play any defense? With Ben Simmons leading a bad LSU team last year, and Fultz looking like the front-runner this year coming out of Washington, playing on a subpar squad doesn’t automatically dock your standing. But with Smith, his skills were a bad match for the situation. What we’re left with is a lot of questions.
12. OG Anunoby
Forward, Indiana, sophomore (6-foot-8, 235 pounds)
Back when Anunoby was healthy, he ranked as high as seventh on our Big Board. There is no such thing as a minor knee injury in basketball, and while Indiana never disclosed the exact severity of his season-ending knee ailment, it’s enough to worry about any lingering effects. Regardless, the point stands: Anunoby’s defensive potential is off the charts. How many players in the NBA today would you comfortably allow to defend every single position on the floor for prolonged stretches? There’s no more than a handful of players on that list. Perhaps the preseason Kawhi Leonard comparisons were premature, but Anunoby, in the flashes we’ve seen him at his best, has skills that are eerily reminiscent of his favorite player. The least he can do on offense is show teams he’s capable of reliably hitting a spot-up 3. But there is potential for a lot more.
13. Miles Bridges
Forward, Michigan State, freshman (6-foot-7, 230 pounds)
(Last ranked: 11)
Bridges is one of the most interesting players in the draft because he is either an extremely future-compatible player, or he isn’t, depending on your perspective. At 6-foot-7 with a wingspan of only 6-foot-9, he would be one of the smallest power forwards in the league without the length to compensate. At his best, he is a wrecking ball on straight-line drives, hitting corner 3s with the utmost confidence, and serving as an excellent weakside shot-blocker with his freakish explosiveness. But it’s hard to see his shot-blocking ability translating, and his drives just as easily end in disaster when he has no room to maneuver. The team that drafts Bridges will need to have a roster capable of accommodating his deficiencies. But if that happens, Bridges has the talent to make teams regret not looking his way sooner in the lotto.
14. Jarrett Allen / Luke Kennard / Justin Jackson
Allen: Center, Texas, freshman (6-foot-11, 235 pounds)
Kennard: Guard, Duke, sophomore (6-foot-6, 202 pounds)
Jackson: Forward, North Carolina, junior (6-foot-8, 210 pounds)
Shockingly, we weren’t able to come to a consensus for the last pick, so we’ve made our cases for each of our selections below.
Tjarks: Allen didn’t get much publicity this season playing on a bad Texas team, but he was considered one of the best players in the country coming out of high school. He has a great combination of length (7-foot-5 wingspan) and agility, as well as the ability to score with his back to the basket and make plays on the move. Allen was remarkably productive as a freshman considering that he often was playing out of position as a power forward on a team without a point guard or much 3-point shooting around him. If he can fill out his frame and continue to improve his perimeter shot, he could represent great value toward the end of the lottery.
O’Connor: Is there anybody out there who also believes Luke Kennard should be a lottery pick? Draft Express has Kennard ranked 21st, ESPN has him 32nd, and CBS Sports puts him 36th. Not even my Ringer boys Chau and Tjarks agree with me. I’m lonely. We all know how important shooting is in today’s NBA and that’s what Kennard excels most at. The Duke sophomore drained 43.8 percent of his 3s; he’s dynamic, showing an aptitude for draining shots off screens, pull-up jumpers, and basic spot-up attempts. He’s not an otherworldly shooter like fellow Blue Devil J.J. Redick, but Kennard is a tier below that — which still makes him incredibly valuable.
Kennard is, however, a more dynamic ball handler than Redick was at Duke. He has an innate feel for the game, which shows up in his passing vision and tendency to always be in the right spot, but he wasn’t always able to fully tap into his basketball instincts. As a freshman, Kennard rarely used his off-hand and was clunky driving to the rim. But he transformed himself and returned a player Coach K could rely on as one of the best pick-and-roll scorers and playmakers in the nation. Kennard often gets pegged as a 2 guard, but I think of him more as a combo guard.
Kennard will need to make improvements as a defender to survive in the NBA. So did Redick. I’d bet on Kennard. His level of improvement from high school senior to college freshman was drastic, but his sophomore surge was even more outstanding. It might take time for him to carve out a role in the NBA, but in the right situation that could happen sooner than later.
Chau: I’ve made my thoughts on Jackson clear in this space before: I think he’s an outstanding player who serves as a paragon of hard work the same way Buddy Hield did last year — and I think he, too, should be rewarded with a lottery selection. Understanding your limitations and knowing exactly how to address them is an underrated skill in any realm, but having it as a basketball player is worth tens of millions of dollars.
There’s a lot of jack-of-all-trades in Jackson’s skill set — he’s improved tremendously as a shooter, but still needs to improve off the dribble; he’s got great size, but doesn’t have the length to make a seamless transition to small-ball 4 should the need present itself; he’s active and moves freely on the court, but doesn’t have exceptional run-jump ability; he’s got great vision, but doesn’t quite have the ball-handling skills to maximize his ability as a facilitator quite yet. As he continues to get stronger, I like his chances of guarding three positions on the court. The job he did on Malik Monk in the Elite Eight was a small revelation; he might not be long enough to contain the best athletes at the 3 position, but his lateral mobility and 6-foot-11 wingspan should be plenty to contain most of the combo guards in the NBA that Monk so closely resembles. That, to me, is where his true value lies. Jackson can be a piece that holds a team together without attracting too much attention to himself; if you’re wearing rose-colored glasses, you might hope he turns into something like Khris Middleton. And every team in the league can use one of him.