Nearly every college basketball season one player always establishes himself as the top dog in the prospective draft class, and this year has been no different. Washington point guard Markelle Fultz was considered the likely top pick coming into this year, and through 12 games, he certainly hasn’t disappointed.
Based on the way Philadelphia has played so far this season, they’ll certainly have a tremendous chance to select him with the first pick. Luckily for Bryan Colangelo, even if the Sixers do miss out on Fultz, there’s still a ton of great talent at the top of the draft.
With conference play set to start this week, we thought it would be an appropriate time to trot out our first big board of the season. Four of our draft experts put together their top 20 prospects (keep in mind this big board is based on the Sixers needs), and provided their thoughts on the class as a whole, the biggest risers/fallers, and the players to watch for the rest of the way out.
Big Board 1.0
|Markelle Fultz||Markelle Fultz||Markelle Fultz||Markelle Fultz|
|Josh Jackson||Josh Jackson||Josh Jackson||Josh Jackson|
|Jayson Tatum||Frank Ntilikina||Frank Ntilikina||Frank Ntilikina|
|Frank Ntilikina||Jayson Tatum||Lonzo Ball||Jonathan Isaac|
|Jonathan Isaac||Jonathan Isaac||Dennis Smith Jr.||Jayson Tatum|
|Dennis Smith Jr.||Lonzo Ball||Jayson Tatum||Malik Monk|
|OG Anunoby||Dennis Smith Jr.||Jonathan Isaac||OG Anunoby|
|Lonzo Ball||OG Anunoby||OG Anunoby||Lonzo Ball|
|Jawun Evans||Malik Monk||Malik Monk||De'Aaron Fox|
|Josh Hart||Jawun Evans||Harry Giles||Miles Bridges|
|Mikal Bridges||Terrance Ferguson (AUS)||Miles Bridges||Dennis Smith Jr.|
|Harry Giles||De'Aaron Fox||Terrance Ferguson||Lauri Markannen|
|Jeremy Morgan||Harry Giles||De'Aaron Fox||Harry Giles|
|Lauri Markkanen||Josh Hart||Lauri Markannen||Ivan Rabb|
|Malik Monk||Miles Bridges||Ike Anignobu||Terrance Ferguson|
|Dedric Lawson||Dedric Lawson||Ivan Rabb||Josh Hart|
|Miles Bridges||Jaron Blossomgame||Kostja Mushidi||Devonte' Graham|
|PJ Dozier||Lauri Markannen||Bam Adebayo||TJ Leaf|
|Robert Williams||Devonte' Graham||Isaiah Hartenstein (LTU)||Kostja Mushidi|
|Rawle Alkins||Mikal Bridges||Tyler Lydon||Luke Kennard|
Explaining the top 5
Marc Whittington: Markelle Fultz is the obvious top prospect in this class. Ingram wasn’t a real threat to Simmons last year -- Fultz would have had a real argument to go first. He has no weaknesses in his offensive game, flashes elite potential at the one on defense, and is one of the youngest members of the class. Too much good to say no.
You can read my article on Josh Jackson to see why I love him. There’s too much that he’s good at for him not to be useful at the very least. If the shot comes around even a little, he’s a star.
Tatum and Isaac are probably more fours than threes, but with Simmons’ ability to guard both spots and handle creation responsibilities, either one would simply be asked to fill in wherever Ben is not. They’re both more than capable of doing that. I like Isaac slightly more for his shooting and clean fit, but the turnovers and lack of assists worry me.
I’ll admit that I have no read on Frank and have barely watched him. He’s here for the idea of what he can be; whether or not he actually is that has yet to be seen. At least by me. If scouts are right, and he’s a real point guard (which, I’ll be honest, I have no idea if it’s the case or not), then there’s nothing to dislike about an elite point-of-attack defender who can switch 1-3.5, shoot off the dribble, and play off-ball. Of course, if he’s not a PnR threat or an off-the-dribble shooter, my interest wanes a lot. But I don’t really know, so I’ll remain optimistic for now.
Jake Pavorsky: Fultz has established himself as the number one guy in June, provided he doesn’t pick up a serious injury, although that would actually make him more of a Sixer than ever before. Josh Jackson is a tremendous player -- elite defender, great passer, solid finisher around the rim -- but the disparity between him and Fultz (Jackson is also 15 months older than Fultz) is pretty large. Tough to see him closing that gap. I’m with Marc on Jackson; he’s got the potential to be a phenomenal player at the next level. The only thing holding him back from superstardom is that jumper, which has quite the hitch in it.
French teenage point guard Frank Ntilikina has really established himself as a top talent for me in this draft. His combination of size, speed, shooting and IQ for the game makes him deserving of a top five selection.
Jonathan Isaac is more of a theoretical prospect at this juncture. Florida State’s too deep to hand the reins over to him, and he’s only taken 13 shots over the past three games, but it’s hard not to see him being a tremendous talent if he puts it all together. A wing prospect with that size who can shoot like that off the catch and off the dribble while also defending well is hard to come by. The same can be said for Jayson Tatum, who rounds out my top five. The tools are there, especially on the defensive end, he just needs to put it all together. Still, not bad for a guy who just made his debut a little over three weeks ago.
Max Rappaport: Markelle Fultz is the clear favorite to be the first overall pick in this year’s draft, and I don’t think it’s all that close. His combination of ball handling, shooting, playmaking, and explosiveness along with his high defensive ceiling make him a pretty perfect fit for the Sixers. He can play both on and off the ball, and the thought of getting 48 minutes of either him or Ben Simmons running the offense every night makes me feel all tingly. His ability to defend multiple positions also makes him incredibly valuable, not only for the Sixers but for whoever is fortunate enough to draft him.
After Fultz, it’s between Josh Jackson and Frank Ntilikina, and I’ve been getting closer and closer to putting Ntilikina at #2. At 6-foot-5 with an Antetokounmpoan wingspan, improving jumper, and ability to finish above the rim, he’s exactly the type of two-way point guard the Sixers need. Like Fultz, he still doesn’t turn 19 until after the lottery and still has a ton of room for improvement. Obviously, with Ntilikina playing about a dozen minutes a night for a team in the French Pro A League, I haven’t watched a ton of him. But everything I’ve seen leads me to believe he’ll have no problem adjusting to the next level. He’s got all the tools, and he has a certain it factor that’s difficult to put into words – it’s the same one I once saw in Antetokoumpo, Joel Embiid, and, sadly, Mario Hezonja.
For now, Josh Jackson is my #2, simply because he’s been too great to bump below Ntilikina (at least for now). Jackson’s probably the worst match for the Sixers in my top five, but if the Sixers find themselves picking this high they shouldn’t be afraid to take a superior talent over a neater fit. And because he’s such a great defender, playmaker, and rebounder, Jackson would look really nice at the three next to Ben Simmons. Lonzo Ball and Dennis Smith, Jr. round out my top five. I think we’re finally going to get a point guard!
Thoughts on the entire class
Max: I really love this class. Kind of weak toward the end of the first round, but the top 10 is better than it’s been in any year since maybe 2008. And best of all, it’s absolutely loaded with guard and wing talent, which obviously suits the Sixers well. Markelle Fultz would be a legit #1 pick in any draft, Frank Ntilikina and Josh Jackson both have true superstar potential, and Lonzo Ball, Dennis Smith, Jr., Jayson Tatum, and Jonathan Isaac all grade out for me as top-five talent in an average year’s draft.
Michael Levin: I think it's an incredibly deep lottery, especially at the positions the Sixers will be looking to target. The international guys haven't revealed themselves outside of Frank just yet so we'll see how many dudes in the 2nd are players. But there's point guard depth left, right, and center, so the Sixers should be able to find someone to back up TJ McConnell pretty easily.
Jake: It’s a lot deeper and much more intriguing than last year’s class, which was basically a cesspool outside of the top two. It’s not hard to envision four or five of these guys becoming franchise players, with a bunch of others molding into really solid role players. However, one thing I don’t think anyone is really talking about with this class is the serious boom or bust potential with a lot of these guys, especially some of the point guards. I’m wary of Lonzo Ball and De’Aaron Fox’s ability to score, and if they can’t find their shots at the next level, they’re backups at best. Maybe Jonathan Isaac never establishes himself as an alpha player and quietly slots into a reserve role for most of his career. Malik Monk’s inability to do much other than shoot could really impact his usefulness at the next level. The ceiling might be higher for this class compared to last year, although I think the floor for a good portion of the guys may be lower.
Marc: I think it’s a pretty good one! The tippety-top isn’t the motherlode it was hyped to be (Fultz is the only clear superstar prospect here), but there are a lot of prospects with “useful” player upside, and it’s hard to parse which prospects are better than others after the Top 2. It feels deep in a similar way to the 2015 draft— one star, another All-Star, and a whole lot of starters beyond that. “Best Draft Ever” is definitely hyperbolic, especially with the dearth of quality big men this year, but it’s certainly an intriguing class.
Marc: For me personally, it’s Jayson Tatum. I was pretty concerned about his utility as a creator and worried that his skill set dictated he play as a primary initiator. It’s still very early, so I don’t want to jump to any conclusions, but his defense has been a very pleasant surprise. He’s getting to the line at a high rate and could be a reasonable Danilo Gallinari facsimile, only with plus defense too. I’d like that kind of player lined up next to Ben and JoJo.
Overall, it’s gotta be Texas A&M’s Robert Williams. Unheralded as a recruit, he’s been impressive as a shot blocker and shooter. He’s probably an undersized 5, but if the team moves on from both Noel and Okafor, they could be in the market for a backup big, and Williams could fill a very nice role there. He’s higher on my non-Sixers centric big board.
Jake: SIG Strasbourg’s Frank Ntilikina has been a real pleasant surprise for me. I’ve been able to watch some of his Basketball Champions League games (you can too!) and he’s been really impressive. A natural point guard, Strasbourg was having him play off-ball to start the season, but had little trouble adjusting. Running the point, he’s a masterful passer out of the pick and roll, who can find his big men with great pocket passes or kick out to shooters on the wing. He’s really improved his jumper over the past year, so much so that it’s hard to even label it a weakness anymore. Leading France to a U18 Euro title just a couple weeks ago, Ntilikina shot 50 percent from the field and 58.6 percent from beyond the arc in six games. He won’t even turn 19 until July of 2017. This kid really has the potential to be special.
Mike: Gotta be Ntilikina. There's just not much he can't do. Even if he's not the athlete Smith is, Frank plays so under control on both sides of the court, seems from interviews to be an incredibly high-character gentleman, and suddenly developed an outside shot to put him firmly in that top three conversation for me. He doesn't have Fultz’s game-changing upside, but as a consolation prize if the lottery love doesn't fall our way this year, I'd be very happy putting him next to Simmons for a decade.
And since I'm still not forgiving myself for missing on Rodney Hood, I'm not gonna let another Dukey shooty lefty pass me by. Luke Kennard is pretty tool-less on defense, but as an offense-only bench 2-guard, that's weaponized juice. He's not on my board because of the defense, but I am looking at him.
Max: It would be easy to say that Frank Ntilikina is that guy for me, but my bearishness on him heading into this year was mostly the result of my own ignorance about his game. The more I’ve seen, the more I’ve fallen in love with him as a prospect. But in terms of a guy I really didn’t believe in but has convinced me otherwise with their improved play, I have to go with Lonzo Ball. I keep wanting to think his jumper isn’t real, but as long as he keeps hitting threes at a 40+ percent clip I can’t knock it. If he’s going to be a competent perimeter shooter at the next level, I don’t see how his combination of size, athleticism, and court vision doesn’t make him a really valuable player in the NBA.
Max: This is going to sound dumb, but I think for me it’s Jayson Tatum. Don’t get me wrong, he’s been very, very good in the five games he’s played so far at Duke. But he just doesn’t fit what the Sixers need at all, and that’s sad. Tatum’s name is one I’d been hearing for a long time, and because what I’d seen of him coming into this season was limited exclusively to BallIsLife mixtapes I had believed this summer that he could maybe be a guy to target if the lottery didn’t shake out the Sixers’ way. As a ball-dominant combo-forward without much range on his jump shot, I just don’t see any way the Sixers could justify taking him. He’ll be nice for somebody else though.
Mike: It's early, but I expected more out of Ivan Rabb. Even though he's not a good fit for the Sixers, I was looking forward to some dominance and a worked-on outside shot. He's regressed in a few areas, maybe trying to do too much without Jaylen Brown. I think he'll be a good pro, but he's not having the Player Of The Year season I guessed he would've.
Jake: I’ll give this to Dennis Smith Jr. Coming into this season I assumed he would be a top 3 talent, and after watching a handful of his games, I’m not even sure if I see him as a top 10 pick. He’s boosted his stats with three really good games over three pretty bad teams, so I’ll put some stock into it, but not a ton. I’ve yet to see the type of explosiveness off the dribble that he displayed in college, and he looks like more of a finesse player than I imagined. Tearing his ACL around 18 months ago may be part of the reason for that, although at this point, it may be fair to question if he ever gets that burst back. On the defensive end, he really couldn’t care less, and it drives me crazy watching him. He easily loses his assignments as he ball watches, and points to teammates to close out on his man because he’s too lazy to try and fight through screens. Out of the group of elite guards in this draft, he’s the one I want the least right now.
Marc: Dennis Smith has struggled to find his footing early this year, although his recent outings against cupcakes may have been breakthroughs worth paying attention to. Prior to the last three games, he had struggled to score efficiently and seemed to struggle against length. He hasn’t given a crap on defense, playing some laughably stationary possessions in the early season. Still, he has played like a world beater when his shot is falling, and he’s the kind of outlier athlete worth taking a shot on. He’s a prospect to monitor closely as he plays more strong competition in the ACC. Having Omer Yurtseven back should help him.
Marc: Gotta go with De’Aaron Fox here. With his struggles to score efficiently (like at all) and his need to play with the ball in his hands, I have trouble envisioning how he even becomes an average starting point, let alone someone who can contribute to the Sixers’ contending for championships. While the defense is nice, a point guard primary responsibility is providing offense— otherwise we could just play a better two-guard defender to play opposite ones instead. Fox is an archetype I probably wouldn’t draft at all.
Jake: I’ve got Lonzo Ball in this category, and I think the hype of him, his brothers, and their insane playing style is overlooking his actual skill. He is undoubtedly an impressive passer, and that alone could keep him in the NBA for a long time. However, his inability to create any sort of offense for himself is pretty terrifying. Ball shows no interest in attacking the rim, and on the off chance he does get in the lane (his handle may not be good enough to break guys down like that), he looks like a deer in headlights. He can’t shoot pull-up jumpers inside the arc. He doesn’t have a floater. His best form of offense right now is bombing 30-foot threes off the catch, and to me that’s not indicative of future success. Ball is not Steph Curry, and if that’s all he wants to do at the pro level, he’s gonna find himself riding the pine.
Mike: I have him sixth because I think he'd be perfect on the Sixers and let's be real he's wildly fun to watch, but Lonzo Ball isn't the superstar people are billing him to be. He's reluctant to attack the basket, I don't love the body/athleticism, and the space he needs to get his jumper off won't be as easy to come by at the next level. He picks up stats on D, but I worry about his frame and how much he wants to play defense when he's not gambling for steals. De'Aaron Fox worked him good in that UK-UCLA game. I would be happy with him with that Lakers pick (and watching him and Simmons pass 48 times per possession would be so fun and so weird), but I think the hype is a bit too hype so far.
Max: Ivan Rabb. Not really sure what this guy does that makes him a better prospect than, like, Adreian Payne. His post game is meh, his jumper is meh, his defense is meh. He can definitely rebound, but I can get that without spending a lottery pick on it.
Who to watch for
Max: Probably Dennis Smith Jr. I had really high hopes for him coming into this season, and although I haven’t lost faith he’s certainly been a bit of a disappointment so far. Over the past few weeks he’s turned things on, but NC State’s recent opponents have been pretty weak. I’m excited to see him go head-to-head with ACC guards in the coming months, because he could be a guy who creeps into my top three by year’s end.
Mike: Watching OG continue develop makes me very happy, but I'll go left field and say Josh Jackson and Devonte' Graham. The Wiggins comparisons are easy to come by for Jackson, and we know how much he can do all around the court. I'd like to see him step into some threes and gain confidence off the catch.
Devonte', meanwhile, is not talked enough among point guard prospects. He's played in a backcourt with Frank Mason for three years so he hasn't really had the opportunity play straight-up point, but he's been excellent. A career 43% shooter from deep, with athleticism, active on defense, who has dropped his turnover rate and upped his TS% each season. Would like to see him get to the basket a bit more, but that's the kind of point guard you want next to Ben Simmons. I think he should be getting more publicity as a prospect, but would be thrilled to grab him in the 2nd if he stays under the radar.
And finally, give me more Jonathan Isaac taking over at FSU.
Jake: I want to seem Jayson Tatum take some more strides as a scorer, because his inability to do anything but shoot long twos (and not do it at a high clip) is quite the concern for me. Right now I have him pinned as a better defensive prospect than offensive.
Also, I think a lot of people forgot about Michigan State’s Miles Bridges. He got off to a hot start, then busted his ankle and proceeded to miss the following five games. He’s proven to be a better shooter than I thought he would out of the gate, and he’s an athletic freak. I still have questions about his positioning, his defense, and ability to score with the ball in his hands, so I hope he can use the remainder of the year to allay some of those concerns. He could be a late season riser if he does.
Marc: On a personal level? How could it not be Harry Giles?! I’d love to scout him closely and see how real the pre-existing consensus is. From a Sixers’ perspective, it’s definitely the two guys I’ve got at 3-5 on this board.