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The Prospects Rising and Falling on Our 2017 NBA Draft Big Boards

We’ve dug into more game tape to evaluate our top-60 players available in the draft. Here’s a look at some notable talents who have improved or worsened their standings.

By Danny Chau, Jonathan Tjarks, and Kevin O’Connor

The NBA draft cramming period is officially upon us. The Ringer’s 2017 NBA Draft Guide will be getting regular updates as we get closer to June 22. And with those updates, our resident draftniks Danny Chau, Jonathan Tjarks, and Kevin O’Connor figured they’d offer some explanations for why certain players have risen or fallen out of favor on their personal big boards.

Note: Color and numeric rankings correspond with the big boards of Chau (orange), Tjarks (red), and O’Connor (blue).

Who Has Risen?

Derrick White

Danny Chau: With the league both prizing versatility over everything and becoming more accommodating for players who fill specific niches on the court, saying White would have a place on all 30 teams in the NBA is the highest possible praise I could give him. White was low on my board earlier in the season just because I hadn’t watched too many Colorado games until I needed to. When I did, White’s utility became clear. Having multiple ball handlers in any given lineup is as important as having players capable of switching screens on defense these days.

At 6-foot-5, 200 pounds, White falls between Matthew Dellavedova and Malcolm Brogdon on the size spectrum, giving him excellent size for a point guard. White’s lack of burst caps his ceiling a bit, but he doesn’t project to be a defensive liability at the next level. He had incredible steal and block rates last season; what margin for error he loses by being a slightly lacking athlete he makes up for in timing and precision. He has all the dimensions required of a secondary facilitator: With all of his jab and hesitation steps on the perimeter, he is a confident playmaker in the pick-and-roll, but can also field the ball on the move and make the second pass as the defense collapses. He is as good shooting from 3 at a standstill as he is on the move, which is invaluable. White shot nearly 40 percent from behind the arc at Colorado last season, and only 61.4 percent of his 3s were assisted, according to Hoop-Math; that rate is lower than Lonzo Ball’s (who created a haven for quick-decision basketball at UCLA) and higher than Markelle Fultz’s or Dennis Smith Jr.’s (who played on miserable teams on which they served as both the best and second-best options).

There’s a lot to like here, and any team building around an unconventional offensive fulcrum (like, say, the Sixers with Ben Simmons or the Nuggets with Nikola Jokic) would maximize White’s complete game.

Jonah Bolden

Read Tjarks on the 21-year-old Aussie’s intriguing multipositional versatility — and his winding path to becoming a legitimate NBA draft prospect.

Johnathan Motley

Jonathan Tjarks: Motley has slipped through the cracks amid all of the big men who are projected to be available at the end of the first round and early in the second round. While Motley had a fantastic season at Baylor, averaging 17.3 points (on 52.1 percent shooting), 9.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.1 blocks a game, he played primarily at power forward, and he doesn’t have the perimeter game that NBA teams want from that position these days. The team that drafts him will have to slide him down to center, and he doesn’t have the size to stand out as a small-ball 5.

The two things he has going for him are elite length (7-foot-4 wingspan) and tremendous athleticism, which was not always displayed at Baylor, where he played in the middle of Scott Drew’s hybrid zone. Motley has the speed to potentially switch screens at the next level, and he’s physical enough to bang bodies with bigger players and hold his own on the boards and in the low block. Combine that with great touch around the basket, as well as a consistent midrange jumper, and he could carve out a spot for himself as a third big man off the bench on a good team. He would have been a really good starting power forward a generation ago, but he’s skilled and athletic enough to make the transition to the smaller and faster game en vogue around the NBA.

Anzejs Pasecniks

Kevin O’Connor: Pasecniks has flaws you don’t expect from a giant. At 7-foot-2, the Latvian big man posts dismal rebounding numbers, with a lifetime 16.3 defensive rebounding percentage, per DX Blue. Defensively, Pasecniks is mobile but gets overpowered, lacks intensity, and has poor fundamentals. These guys won’t help the ancient and ridiculous “soft European” stereotype.

I had Pasecniks ranked in the 30s all year, but that changed with our last Draft Guide update. It became obvious that I was highly underrating his offense. Now ranked 17th, he’s closer to Lauri Markkanen (12th), which feels appropriate. Pasecniks isn’t a knockdown shooter, but he’s capable from outside:

Pasecniks slowly winds up his shot like he’s Hideo Nomo. But basketball is a completely different game, and he’ll need to get quicker to hit high-pressure shots. It’s not like he’ll be asked to jack up eight triples a game though. He’s a mild threat to shoot, which in itself will open the door for him to do what he does best: attack off the bounce.

The 21-year-old is light on his feet, finishes creatively at the rim with runners, and uses either hand for layups. Pasecniks is super-skilled, and he’s explosive too.

Pasecniks usually sets pretty good screens, and he always excels rumbling down the lane. He can score with finesse, but he frequently finishes lobs too. Pasecniks is a multidimensional scoring threat whom teams can use innovatively in the pick-and-roll. There aren’t many bigs who check those boxes other than Al Horford, Brook Lopez, and Marc Gasol. Pasecniks isn’t close to that level a scorer. But versatile scoring bigs like Pasecniks are a rarity, and that’s why he’s risen up draft boards toward the middle of the first round. Years from now, maybe we’ll wonder how Pasecniks wasn’t the first 7-footer off the board.

Donovan Mitchell

Read O’Connor on the Louisville dynamo and how he reflects the ever-changing nature of the point guard.

Who Has Fallen?

Isaiah Hartenstein

Tjarks: It’s easy to see why the Lithuanian big man has gotten a lot of buzz as a potential draft-and-stash guy at the end of first round. He’s legitimately massive (7-foot-1 and 250 pounds) for a 19-year-old, he’s not a bad athlete for a guy his size, and he’s fairly comfortable operating out on the perimeter. However, a closer look at his statistical profile, as well as the way the NBA game is changing, raises a couple of red flags about his ability to transition to the NBA.

The biggest problem for Hartenstein is that he’s not a good shooter, at least not yet. He shot 26.7 percent from the 3-point line and 71.1 percent from the free throw line last season at Zalgiris, and Synergy Sports has him among the 26th percentile of jump shooters in the Lithuanian League last season. And while he is big, he doesn’t use his size to affect the game either as a high-level post scorer, rebounder, or shot blocker, and he’s nowhere near fast enough to guard on the perimeter. He’s still young enough to turn himself into a useful player, but he’s a long way from reaching his potential, and his ceiling may not be nearly as high as his size would indicate.

Harry Giles

Chau: Technically, I’m still an optimist when it comes to Giles; both of my very smart colleagues have Giles as their 31st-ranked prospect in the draft, while I still have Giles holding firm at the 22nd spot — but the late stages of the first is a far cry from where I envisioned him in September. Though it’s likely to change in the coming days, we presently have Giles as the 14th pick in our mock draft; if the lottery is about going for broke, you have to imagine someone still sees the world of potential he had before his last knee injury.

This is the Harry Giles Experience in 2017. It’s an interior dialogue. It’s an astral projection. It’s doing literally anything to distract yourself from the fact that what he showed at Duke in his one and only season was nowhere close to NBA caliber. I think back to Quincy Miller, a supremely talented player who suffered an ACL tear in his senior year of high school, lacked a significant degree of explosiveness in his single season at Baylor, slipped to the second round of the 2012 draft, and has yet to establish any semblance of a foothold in the NBA. First impressions can last a long time, though. When I think about Harry Giles, I still think about how he looked like the chosen one in his junior year of high school — a 6-foot-10, hypermobile machine with great court awareness and developing range on his jump shot. I still think about how poised he was at the 2015 U-19 World Championship in Greece. But this is all easy for me to say. I don’t have millions of dollars on the line in making this decision. I just have some fond memories and hopes for the best.

Lauri Markkanen

O’Connor: Markkanen floated between fourth and eighth on my big board over the first few months of the college season before he plunged to the back end of the lottery once our Draft Guide launched. I still like Lauri; he’s a 7-footer who shoots 3s at a high level and it’s easy to see him scoring a lot of points in his career. But saying Markkanen is a 7-footer who shoots 3s is a bit of an empty statement.

Markkanen plays nothing like a 7-footer — he rebounds like a guard. The Finnish stretch forward had a 17.5 defensive rebounding percentage as a freshman at Arizona, a low output comparable to college numbers posted by Frank Kaminsky, Bobby Portis, and Kelly Olynyk. You can trash the stats though. Pop on the film and you’ll find countless sequences like this:

Markkanen gets bulldozed out of the way because he lacks the core strength to hold his spot and the awareness or mind-set to box out. He has the reach of a Tyrannosaurus, so little guys sky over him to rip down boards. It’s easy to say that a team can shift Markkanen to the 5 and play small. Great. Then the team will be prone on the boards, and there are no assurances he’ll be able to hold his own defensively. Markkanen has shown flashes of being able to defend the perimeter. He’s mobile offensively, and sometimes it translates to defense. But for the most part, Markkanen is a 7-footer who defends like an end-of-bench player.

All the physical issues that limit his rebounding also hinder his interior defense. In the pick-and-roll, bigger guards and wings plow through him. When a big is trying to seal off a spot inside, this happens too frequently:

Again, Markkanen gets shoved away like he’s a rag doll. His defensive positioning, instincts, fundamentals, and intensity are low. What I saw earlier in the season in Markkanen is what remains today — a highly skilled offensive player who can score uniquely from different levels of the floor. But what became more apparent as the year wore on was that he has the same pressing issues that have limited the upsides of other similar players. Markkanen could be really good, but right now there are at least 11 other prospects I’d rather take a crack at.